By Nancy Kelly
Kelsey Pynch’s sentencing hearing continued Dec. 4 with testimony about methadone, a prescription drug used to wean addicts off opiates.
The 22 year-old Nicholsville resident was implicated in the 2012 overdose death of 20-year-old Katana MacDonald and pled guilty to trafficking methadone during a court appearance in September after the crown dropped the original charge of criminal negligence causing death. A participant in Annapolis Valley Health’s (AVH) opiate replacement treatment program since the fall of 2011, Pynch admitted to selling her methadone to MacDonald prior to her death. Her Nov. 15 sentencing hearing was held over to allow Judge Alan Tufts to get a better understanding of the role the methadone played in the death.
Defense lawyer Don Fraser called on two witnesses to provide details about the AVH methadone program and the circumstances surrounding a decision to provide Pynch with methadone doses to be administered at home.
Shonda Lee Eisnor, co-ordinator of the AVH program, established in October 2011, explained the role methadone plays in weaning addicts off opiates, which change brain chemistry. It works by blocking opioid receptors in the brain to take away cravings and prevent withdrawal symptoms. It is taken orally, usually mixed with juice.
Eisnor first met Pynch when she joined the program. In January 2012, Pynch was granted methadone carries after she met the assessment criteria and “made some positive changes in her life.
“It was a team-based decision,” said Eisnor, likening the carry home privilege to “a reward for how you are doing” in the program. She said as part of the carry arrangement Pynch signed a contract stating the methadone would only be consumed by herself.
Under questioning by Tufts, Eisnor reported Pynch was receiving a daily 150 mg methadone dose in June 2012. When he asked if it was a good idea to give that amount to someone not taking methadone, Eisnor responded “it is not a good idea.”
Dr. Achal Mishra, a psychiatrist with AVH, consults with physicians who prescribe methadone. He confirmed he saw Pynch at the Berwick methadone clinic but did not consult directly on her case. His testimony focused on the interaction of methadone and other stimulants, such as alcohol. He noted the combination of the two can cause respiratory distress and lead to death. He concurred with Eisnor that a 150 mg dose, similar to Pynch’s prescription “would very likely cause problems,” for a non-methadone user. MacDonald was reportedly consuming alcohol and other drugs prior to her death.
Tufts will deliberate on the evidence presented and return with a sentencing decision Dec. 23.
“I want time to consider the testimony and organize my (sentencing) reasons properly. Regrettably, that will not happen today.”
The crown is seeking a custodial sentence in a provincial institution. Fraser has requested a conditional sentence.
“My client realizes she is facing a jail term,” Fraser said. “Now Judge Tufts has to sit back and go through everything in his mind.”