Woman’s addiction fight ended with deadly infection
ERIE, Pa. (AP) — April Corritore could make friends anywhere.
Even during the worst times of her longstanding drug addiction, Corritore had a magnetism that drew people in, her family said.
But on Oct. 20, Corritore died at Millcreek Community Hospital without any friends or family nearby. An infection had spread to her heart, with fatal consequences. The 33-year-old had spent the past month in the Erie County Prison, awaiting prosecution on charges that she stole painkillers.
In an interview with the Erie Times-News, Corritore’s family offered a glimpse at Corritore’s life through their eyes — and at the anguish of watching a loved one struggle with addiction.
Corritore’s family had no illusions about her lifestyle. It could be difficult to trust her when she was using, they said.
But through the most challenging times, she had a smile and a personality that were contagious, said her twin sister, Amber Corritore. The family lived in Erie for most of April Corritore’s childhood. The sisters each attended Central Career & Technical School.
“She could talk to anybody,” said April Corritore’s mother, Rea Campbell, 63. “She had no qualms about going up to a stranger and talking to them. She was just a loving, warm person, but she was sick. She had a disease.”
The number of drug-related deaths in Erie County remains on track to drop in 2018 from a record-high 124 deaths in 2017.
Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook said the county has seen 71 drug-related deaths this year as of Oct. 25. On Oct. 26, 2017, the county had already seen 111 drug-related deaths.
The number of drug deaths spiked as the opioid crisis took hold in Erie County and across the nation. Even if drug-related deaths drop in 2018 from 2017, the current total of 71 deaths remains higher than the total number of drug deaths Erie County saw each year before 2016.
In 2016, the number of drug deaths rose to 95, up from 59 the previous year.
Local officials have credited the use of naloxone, an opioid-overdose antidote also known by the brand name Narcan, with bringing the number of drug deaths down from the record set in 2017.
— Madeleine O’Neill
April Corritore’s addiction to opioids began with unprescribed OxyContin, an opioid painkiller, and eventually advanced to heroin, Campbell and Amber Corritore said.
Corritore’s family tried to get her help, they said. Campbell said she brought her daughter to Michigan, where Campbell lives now, several times in hopes of getting her back on track. But she always returned to Erie, and to addiction, Campbell said.
“You rack your brain (thinking) what more you could have done, but you can’t help somebody that doesn’t want to be helped,” Campbell said.
“Everybody just clung to her, even the people that she hurt the most,” Amber Corritore said.
Then, in September, April Corritore was arrested on charges that she stole hydrocodone pills from a man with whom she had gone to an East Sixth Street Rite Aid on Aug. 20, according to the criminal complaint. She was also held for a probation violation, her sister said.
Corritore was still awaiting prosecution in the Erie County Prison when she was taken to Millcreek Community Hospital on Oct. 20.
A deadly infection
Corritore’s family knew her drug use put her at risk of an overdose. They did not expect she would die from a bacterial infection.
The exact source of the infection that killed Corritore is difficult to pinpoint. But because of her history of addiction, April Corritore was more susceptible to infection, a dangerous but lesser-known consequence of injection drug use.
Overdose deaths have been used as a tragic metric to measure the effect of the opioid crisis on Erie County. As the number of deaths grew in recent years, attention honed in on the problem.
In 2018, for the first time since the opioid crisis came into public focus, the number of drug-related deaths in Erie County is set to drop from the previous year. As of Oct. 25, Erie County had seen 71 drug-related deaths, down from 111 on Oct. 26, 2017.
But other side-effects of injection drug use can also pose a threat.
“We see a lot of infections, anything from simple skin infection to more serious, like joint, bone or heart infections,” said Eric Milie, D.O., the director of Millcreek Community Hospital’s emergency department. “That’s been on the rise for the past couple of years.”
These infections can become fatal, Milie said, although he has not seen an increase in deaths.
“Sometimes even if it is treated appropriately, they can certainly die,” he said.
Injection drug users can contract infections from using unclean needles, but they also lower their immune system’s ability to fight off infections through long-term opioid abuse, he said.
“I think when a person is addicted, things like infections and some of the risks associated with using drugs, they kind of get tossed out the window,” Milie said. “Unfortunately, it’s a disease that leads people to make poor decisions.”
The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, a state agency, reports that one in 37 hospitalizations in Pennsylvania was related to opioids in 2017. About 6,000 of those admissions were for opioid overdose or symptoms specifically related to opioid use.
In another 30,400 hospitalizations, patients were admitted for another condition but were also dealing with opioid addiction.
Nearly 15 percent of those hospital admissions were for skin infections and septicemia, or bacteria in the blood, which are both conditions that often affect injection drug users, according to the Health Care Cost Containment Council.
“There are a lot of secondary symptoms you would expect to find in people who abuse substances of any kind,” Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook said. “The gradual poisoning of the body also interferes with the body’s ability to fight off infections.”
Concerns about medical care
In a Facebook post to friends and family, Amber Corritore wrote that her sister’s death was caused by “a complication of her abuse.” She wanted people to know her sister did not die of an overdose.
April Corritore had dealt with infections as a result of her drug use in the past, her family said. And before she entered prison, she had been prescribed antibiotics for a skin infection on her ankle and for a chest cold, Amber Corritore said.
“She did a toll on her body and a lot of this is a result of that,” Amber Corritore said.
But she and her family also believe that April Corritore did not receive adequate medical care after she was arrested Sept. 19. Amber Corritore said her sister’s condition quickly deteriorated while she was in prison.
Little information is available about Corritore’s medical care at the prison. Erie County declined to comment on the specifics of her care, citing privacy concerns.
“In reviewing reports about the Erie County Prison inmate who passed away at Millcreek Community Hospital on Oct. 20, 2018, the administration has determined the prison adhered to the proper policies and procedures regarding medical treatment for the inmate,” said Gary Lee, Erie County’s director of administration, in a statement. “Our thoughts remain with the inmate’s family and friends at this difficult time.”
A spokeswoman for the prison’s medical contractor, Wexford Health Sources Inc., did not respond to a phone message.
According to a letter April Corritore wrote to her sister from prison, she was taken from the prison for a hospital visit in early October. Amber Corritore said her sister reported in a phone call that she had been put on an antibiotic for pneumonia.
But her condition continued to decline, and Amber Corritore could do little to help from outside the prison as her sister seemed to get worse.
On Oct. 20, April Corritore was taken to Millcreek Community Hospital, Chief Deputy Coroner Nick Rekitt said. By 9:08 p.m., he said, Corritore had been pronounced dead from sepsis due to bacterial endocarditis — an infection that had reached her heart.
Amber Corritore said she wasn’t notified that her sister’s condition was so grave until about 8:45 p.m. By the time she arrived at the hospital, it was too late.
“She had a life to live,” Campbell said. “She had a family who loved her.”
Millcreek Community Hospital declined to make the doctor who treated April Corritore available for an interview and Milie declined to discuss her case.
It never occurred to Corritore’s family that she might die of an infection.
“I don’t think I ever thought of it,” Campbell said. “Now we’ve learned what it really can do because it happened to April.”
April Corritore also didn’t seem to think her illness would turn deadly. In a letter to her sister from prison dated Oct. 9, Corritore wrote to her sister about her desire to get away from Erie and the habits she kept falling into. She said she wanted to stay alive for the sake of her 10-year-old daughter.
“I am dead serious this time,” Corritore wrote in neat cursive. “If I don’t relocate I am going to die, and I really don’t want to die.”
Information from: Erie Times-News, http://www.goerie.com