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VANCOUVER -- More than five years after an Abbotsford woman recovering from heroin addiction died of a prescription-drugs overdose, police in Abbotsford have charged her doctor with manslaughter and criminal negligence causing death.
Dr. James Swanney, 60, is the subject of a Canada-wide search warrant in connection with the death of Christena Constible, 20, in May of 2000.
"The charges are directly related to the care that Miss Constible received from Mr. Swanney as a patient of his," said Constable Casey Vinet, adding that a complaint from Ms. Constible's family prompted the investigation.
Constable Vinet confirmed that Abbotsford police are investigating the death of another patient of Dr. Swanney. Mission RCMP Constable Donald King died of a morphine overdose while being treated for chronic pain in August of 2000.
Dr. Swanney moved to Scotland to practise medicine on the Isle of Skye in late 2002, and police believe he is still there. When Canadian authorities determine his whereabouts, he may face extradition.
"Hers was a death that never should have happened," said Joan Gadsby, who, Ms. Constible's father, John, lobbied for Dr. Swanney to be charged. "It's a tragic death, and we're ecstatic today."
Ms. Constible, a graduate of Abbotsford Senior Secondary School in 1997, was introduced to cocaine and heroin by an older boyfriend.
She became addicted and asked her family doctor for help. In 1998, the doctor referred her to Dr. Swanney, who was licensed to prescribe methadone. She began treatment in January of 1999.
According to a coroner's report, her condition improved, and she returned to exercising regularly. After she stopped treatment in March of 2000, Dr. Swanney prescribed an antidepressant and a sedative.
On April 16, she was admitted to hospital, and the next day slashed her wrists with a broken light bulb from the psychiatric ward. She survived and was later discharged, but her condition continued to decline.
On May 11, she and her mother returned to Dr. Swanney's office. She pleaded for medication, saying she "just wanted to be numb," the report said.
Dr. Swanney told the inquest he gave them two vials of methadone that had been returned from another patient, who he considered to be trustworthy.
Ms. Constible stopped breathing that night and died in hospital the next morning.
The coroner's inquest in 2002 found she stopped breathing as a result of a mixed drug overdose of methadone, the sedative chloral hydrate, and venlafaxine, an antidepressant.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. found Dr. Swanney failed to manage Ms. Constible's care appropriately because he didn't refer her to a specialist and also broke practice guidelines by giving her methadone directly rather than prescribing it.
In 2004, Dr. Swanney lost his prescribing privileges, was banned from practising medicine in B.C. and was fined $13,500, college registrar Morris VanAndel said.
"One of the things that has been awkward is that he's chosen to go to [Scotland]," he said.
It's also unusual that he's been criminally charged so long after the two investigations and even longer after the death, he said.
"The jump from [a reprimand by the college] to charging him with manslaughter is a significant one."
Dr. Swanney couldn't be reached for comment, and Great Britain's National Health Service wouldn't release his contact information.
In 2002, he told British newspaper the Sunday Mail that he had done nothing wrong.
"I did not do a runner from Canada," he said. "I have always wanted to spend my last years as a doctor in Scotland."
-------------------- Sometimes we let the preoccupations of this cruel world get the best of us and we lose track of the things that really matter.
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