DURHAM: Huerta ingested lethal amount of cough medicine - WFLA News Channel 8

Report: Huerta ingested potentially lethal amount of cough medicine

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DURHAM, N.C. -

A Durham teen, who police say shot himself to death while in the backseat of a police cruiser, had a potentially fatal amount of cough medicine in his system at the time of his death.

A toxicology report released Wednesday revealed that Jesus Huerta's liver contained 25 mg/kg of dextromethorphan and less than 2 mg/kg of chlorpheniramine when he died. A blood sample found 0.25 mg/L of chlorpheniramine and 1.5 mg/L of dextromethorphan.

Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant while chlorpheniramine is an antihistamine.

Recreational use of dextromethorphan, or DXM, can cause intoxicated sensations and sometimes hallucinations known as "plateaus." The so-called "first plateau" can occur when a user ingests between 1.5 to 2.5 mg/kg.

Dr. Ruth Winecker, the chief toxicologist for Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said Thursday that the amount of DXM in Huerta's system was considerably more than what a normal human should ingest. She called it a potentially lethal dose.

"Hallucinations is the main side effect when you take it at high doses," Winecker said. "In order to achieve those effects, you have to take such a high dose that you are risking overdose and death."

Police requested the medical examiner take a closer look at toxicology in January, two months after Huerta died Nov. 19, 2013, from a gunshot wound to the mouth while in the back seat of a police car.

Winecker said it can take between four and six weeks for the state medical examiner to come back with a toxicology report.

The Huerta family's attorney declined to talk specifically about the results, but told WNCN, arresting officers, familiar with Huerta, should have been aware he had a drug problem. His family says they had tried to get him help before his death.

Police say Huerta was handcuffed in the backseat of the cruiser when he shot himself on Nov. 19, 2013. Durham Police said the arresting officer, Officer Samuel Duncan, patted down Huerta and checked the police cruiser when his shift began.

Police arrested Huerta after officers were called to a home on Washington Street about a run-away. The warrants said a woman had called 911 and said a male wearing a black and red jacket, white T-shirt and jeans had run away from home, had taken drugs and was threatening to kill himself.

Sometime later, officers found Huerta, who matched the description of the run-away, and arrested him on an outstanding second-degree trespassing warrant.

Huerta had faced charges before including possession of a burglary tool, resisting a public officer and trespassing on Feb. 16. He was charged with second trespassing on Nov. 12, 2012 and then possession of marijuana with intent to sell in Oct. 2012.

All of those charges were dismissed.

The case has been an emotional one in Durham, with the Huerta family saying Durham Police failed to monitor Huerta properly while he was in the police car and that his death was unnecessary.

Durham District Attorney Leon Stanback announced last month that his office had examined the State Bureau of Investigation report and would not file charged in the case.

Stanback has since received an anonymous tip related to the shooting and has said his office "agreed to look into the material to the extent that it is reasonable and productive, and has a probability of relating to a crime."

An internal police probe is still ongoing.

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