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Oakland VA nurse's death ruled overdose

| Saturday, April 6, 2013, 12:20 a.m.

A nurse found dead in a bathroom at the Oakland VA hospital overdosed on the narcotic pain medicine fentanyl, the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office said.

How Patrick Austin, 47, of Gibsonia got the drug remained a mystery Friday as VA officials continued a joint investigation with Pittsburgh police and stayed mum on details.

“We don't know how he obtained it,” said police Sgt. Ron Griffin.

Austin worked since June 2007 in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, local VA spokesman David Cowgill said.

A doctor pronounced him dead at 11:19 a.m. Jan. 16 in the hospital on University Drive after employees discovered his body and apparently tried to perform CPR, police reported at the time.

The inspector general's office at the Pittsburgh VA referred questions to national spokeswoman Joanne Moffett in Washington.

She said the VA police and the Pittsburgh VA Office of Inspector General are collaborating in the investigation. VA officials received the medical examiner's report on Friday, she said.

“The case hasn't officially closed, so we don't have further details for release,” Moffett wrote in an email.

Pittsburgh VA leaders will decide after the investigation whether to establish any new internal policies, Cowgill said.

Austin's brother Shaun, 50, of Sarver declined to comment on the investigation. He said his brother loved nursing, music and traveling to islands including Puerto Rico, where he worked in VA facilities for nearly 20 years.

“He really liked helping the veterans,” Shaun Austin said. “He was a really caring person who really enjoyed his job.”

Government health officials approved fentanyl in 1990 to ease severe or chronic pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Austin's death is attributed officially to toxic effects of the drug. The medical examiner ruled his death an accident.

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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