An Indiana woman’s alleged addiction to morphine appears to be the reason her 16-year-old son committed suicide in July. According to court documents, the boy was living in constant fear his mother’s drug addiction would eventually lead to a fatal overdose.
Sabrina Howard, 40, was arrested Monday on preliminary charges of neglect and causing the suicide of her son, Charles, who died July 11 after overdosing on prescription medication. She was not formally charged but held without bond Tuesday at the Delaware County Jail.
On July 10, Howard found her son unresponsive on a couch in their home, according to a probable cause affidavit. Howard told officers that she thought her son had taken her pills--including 30 Xanax and 26 Lortabs--when she found him. Charles died the next day, and his death was ruled a suicide attributed to high amounts of prescription medications.
In a later interview with police, Howard said she confronted her son on the morning of July 10 about missing pills, but he denied taking them. She suspected he was lying because he was speaking slower than normal and acting groggy.
Howard said she checked on her son throughout the day as he slept on a couch to make sure "he was still breathing." She called 911 that evening after she found him pale and no longer breathing.
The affidavit also says that relatives told police about Howard’s morphine addiction, that “she is still using,” and that Charles "was in great duress" over confronting his mother and fearing that she might overdose.
Charles threatened to end his life in January, but Howard told officers she ignored the medical advice to sign him up for treatment because he "didn't want to go."
Howard admitted to officers that she was an intravenous morphine user in the past. But officers said they noticed what appeared to be "fresh track marks on her left wrist/hand area," according to the document.
Indiana has a causing suicide law, added in 1976, which applies to "a person who intentionally causes another human being, by force, duress, or deception, to commit suicide." Fran Lee Watson, a law professor at Indiana University, said prosecutors would have to prove Howard intentionally caused her son's death.
"They have to show that, by duress, she intended to bring about his suicide, as opposed to failing to get him medical care when she should have reasonably assumed that he had ingested her medication," she said. "That's what intentionally means under Indiana law – that her intent was to bring about a specific result."
Stephanie McFarland, a spokesperson for Indiana's Department of Child Services, said the agency was in contact with the Howard family "recently." Because of state and federal confidentiality laws, McFarland was unable to go into detail about the interaction.
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