Woman had caffeine level equivalent to 200 cups of coffee from diet pills

Edel Houston (23) died after taking diet pills in June 2015
John Monaghan

A WOMAN who died after taking an overdose of dieting pills had 200 times the level of caffeine found in a cup of coffee, an inquest has heard.

Edel Houston (23), from Glebe Road East in Glengormley, died in June last year at Antrim Area Hospital after suffering a seizure and cardiac arrest.

Belfast Coroner’s Court was told yesterday that she was not attended to by triage staff until 45 minutes after her arrival at hospital.

A 'serious adverse incident' report was produced by the Northern trust following her death.

Dr Joe Lyness, assistant state pathologist, said caffeine toxicity had been the "main factor" in the death, with aspiration pneumonia the "terminal event".

"She had 200 times the level expected of a normal cup of coffee... in the range where death is attributed to caffeine toxicity alone."

A keen swimmer, horse rider and member of the Girls Brigade, Miss Houston had been diagnosed with the condition neurofibromatosis, which can cause tumors to grow along nerves, at 18 months old.

Registered blind and with difficulty walking, her father said she had developed mental health problems and anorexia after being bullied at school.

Anthony Houston said: "I always tried to make her life as normal as possible. She was bullied at school about her weight."

Mr Houston said his family had "no idea" about the origin or manufacturer of the caffeine pills - which are legal - except that they had been bought over the internet.

The attendant paramedic on the night, Alastair Drummond, told the inquest he had decided that Miss Houston didn't require the most serious 'Emergency 1' referral, meaning that staff at the hospital would be on standby for her arrival.

Mr Drummond said: "It wasn't as serious as it would have been for an older person. Tachycardia readings (heart ratings) were high but it wouldn't have been uncommon."

Rhonda Houston, Edel's mother, started to cry when a colleague, Conor Finnegan, who was driving the ambulance that night, said he would have taken a different decision.

Asked by Coroner Joe McCrisken if he would have made a Stage 1 call, Mr Finnegan replied: "Yes, on the basis that she had taken an overdose and had a 180 heart reading."

The triage nurse on duty, Ruel Carreon, said staff had taken other patients before Miss Houston, including attending to a woman who was drunk and being abusive to staff.

He also confirmed he had not read a patient referral form about Miss Houston handed to him by the paramedics.

He said: "The ambulance staff didn't raise any concerns about how sick she was and didn't say she had a reading of 180."

However, a doctor and a consultant who were on duty both agreed that it was "highly unlikely that earlier intervention would have changed the outcome".

Mrs Houston said she "went to pieces" when told her daughter had died.

She said: "I just wish I had went in the ambulance with her."

Mr McCrisken paid tribute to the young woman, who he said had "fought... despite the hand life dealt her."

The case was adjourned until this morning, when the coroner is expected to deliver his findings.


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