Lowestoft mother believed to have died from morphine overdose after knee operation

The James Paget University Hospital at Gorleston where Karen Lee had a knee operation. Picture: Jam

The James Paget University Hospital at Gorleston where Karen Lee had a knee operation. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2011

A mother-of-three who had been prescribed morphine after leaving hospital following a knee replacement operation may have died from an overdose of the drug, an inquest heard.

A statement read at the start of a three-day inquest being held at Lowestoft Magistrates' Court on behalf of her family said that when Karen Lee's joint deteriorated over the years, she began to regularly use morphine-based drugs to ease the pain.

On December 16, 2014, the 51-year-old of Lyndhurst Road, Lowestoft underwent a knee replacement operation at the James Paget University Hospital (JPUH) in Gorleston. She had been admitted a week earlier as she was suffering from chronic pain.

Dr Mark Portel, a surgical trainee on the orthopaedic ward at the time Mrs Lee was an inpatient, expressed concerns she was exhibiting 'drug seeking behaviour' as she said only they were relieving her pain.

She stayed in hospital until December 30, when she was discharged - despite Mrs Lee's family expressing concerns that the care package put in place was not sufficient because of her history of alcohol and opiate misuse, the inquest heard.

They also expressed concerns that she lived in a second floor flat which could only be accessed by a spiral staircase, it was heard.

Upon leaving the hospital Mrs Lee was given a prescription of oramorph which should have lasted around three days.

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Mrs Lee contacted her GP at the High Street Surgery in Lowestoft, Dr Gavin Lockyer, on December 31 as she was concerned she would run out over the New Year bank holiday.

He prescribed her a further amount, which should have lasted around two weeks.

Dr Lockyer said he took into account her limited mobility and anxiety about running out of the drug, but noted that the amount was limited because of her known problems with addiction.

Her friend Sarah Reeve went to visit Mrs Lee on New Year's Day and found her unresponsive in bed and called for an ambulance. When paramedics arrived they pronounced her dead at the scene.

Dr Ray Lonsdale, a consultant pathologist at the JPUH, said a toxiocology report showed there was no alcohol present in her bloodstream and that prescribed drugs were all at therapeutic levels.

However, he noted that the level of morphine was significantly above the potentially fatal level and recorded the medical cause of death as excessive ingestion of prescribed morphine.

Dr Lonsdale said no self-inflicted trauma was found on her body. Police officers also found no note in her flat to suggest suicide.

The inquest continues today.