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Did Depakote Play a Role in Child's Death?

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Quincy, MAThe state medical examiner in Massachusetts has ruled that a four-year-old girl's death at her family home was the result of a drug overdose. Rebecca Riley, who died on December 13, 2006, was prescribed clonidine—a high blood pressure medication that can be used as a sedative in children—for ADHD, and Depakote for bipolar disorder. Carolyn Riley, the girl's mother, was charged with murder in February 2007.

According to a summary of the trial proceedings, published in the 2/2/10 edition of the Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts, Rebecca's parents claim that their daughter died from a fast-moving pneumonia and that they were simply acting on the instructions of the doctor who diagnosed their daughter with bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder when she was two. Dr. Kayoko Kifuji, a psychiatrist with Tufts Medical Center, prescribed the two drugs that were found in Rebecca's body at the time of her death.

Dr. Elizabeth Bundock, currently serving as the deputy chief medical officer in Vermont, concluded in her autopsy that Rebecca died from intoxication after being administered a combination of clonidine, Depakote and two over-the-counter cold and cough medications. Bundock testified during the trial that the drugs affected Rebecca's brain, heart and lungs, leading to "a pump failure of the heart," overworked lungs filled with bloody fluid, coma and death.

Prosecutors charge that the Rileys deliberately overdosed her with prescription drugs, in part because they had failed to secure Social Security disability payments for her.

The trial of Carolyn Riley, of Hull, MA, was held in Plymouth County Superior Court.

Depakote is an anti-convulsant known as valproate semisodium or divalproex sodium, which is used to treat epilepsy and manic episodes of bipolar disorder. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified Depakote into pregnancy category D due to its likelihood of causing serious and potentially life-threatening birth defects. To that end, women who are pregnant, are likely to become pregnant, or are nursing should avoid using Depakote.

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