Family of retired firefighter blames opioids for his mental collapse

The family of William Comstock claims his prescription opioids left him "to battle the horrors of a tormented mind for the remainder of his days"

By Wendy Culverwell
Tri-City Herald

KENNEWICK, Wash. — The family of a retired Kennewick firefighter and transit driver is blaming prescription opioids for his mental collapse.

This week, they sued five opioid manufacturers and his Kennewick physician for malpractice and product liability.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of William "Jean" Comstock, 76, claims medication prescribed for his chronic pain reduced the once engaging public servant to a psych ward patient "left to battle the horrors of a tormented mind for the remainder of his days."

The suit in Benton County Superior Court was brought by David Comstock on behalf of his father against the pharmaceutical companies, along with Dr. Nadia Toshani.

Amneal Pharmaceuticals of New York declined to comment. Mallinckrodt Inc., KVKTech Inc., Actavis Pharma Inc. and Specgx LLC, could not be reached about the suit.

And Toshani, who works for Trios Medical Group, said she had no comment.

Neither Trios nor the city of Kennewick is named in the suit.

Comstock was a captain when he retired from firefighting in 1988 but didn't stay retired. Two years later, he began 12-year stint as a driver for Ben Franklin Transit. He retired for good in 2002.

The lawsuit maintains Comstock's back and joint injuries from his firefighting career led him to seek relief after he left the transit agency.

David Comstock said his father's mental health deteriorated quickly after he began taking opioids prescribed by Toshani and manufactured by the co-defendants.

According to the suit, Comstock began regularly summoning police to his home, complaining he was under attack.

People were outside his home. Sometimes they were armed. Usually, they were trying to get in. One threatened Comstock's wife, who had previously died. Responding officers invariably found nothing amiss.

In 2015 and again in 2017, Comstock was taken to the emergency room at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland and transferred to Lourdes Health Network for a prolonged stay.

At Lourdes, he was diagnosed with opioid-induced psychotic disorder after medical providers noted he threatened violence against his son and engaged in conversations with nonexistent people, including a nonexistent fiancee.

Last July, Comstock was involuntarily hospitalized when a judge concluded he was a gravely disabled adult due to mental health problems. He currently lives in a psychiatric unit.

The malpractice and product liability suit echoes a growing national movement by government entities seeking compensation from pharmaceutical companies that profited from selling opioids without disclosing how addictive they could be.

The suits generally contend the manufacturers fueled the national epidemic through false claims that opioids were safe to use, causing billions in expenses for law enforcement, the justice system, public health agencies and more.

More than 400 cases filed by cities, counties and tribes have been consolidated into a massive federal case pending before a Northern Ohio judge. A series of trials in 2019 is expected to test the legal underpinnings of their argument.

Comstock's complaint puts a local face on the national crisis by highlighting a born-and-raised Tri-Citian.

He graduated from Pasco High School and joined the Kennewick Fire Department in about 1967. His son notes that his great grandparents are buried in Pasco. Generations of Comstocks have attended local schools.

David Comstock, who said his father served the community with distinction, was reluctant to publicly discuss his father's illness in great detail.

He spent 21 years with the fire department, working in various capacities, including as an emergency medical technician. The suit notes he served as president of the firefighters union for 15 years.

The suit asserts Comstock was unaware opioids were dangerous and used them as expected. His physician did not offer alternative treatments for his chronic pain, said the lawsuit.

The suit seeks damages to be determined at the trial as well as legal fees. Comstock is represented by Brian Davis of Leavy Schultz Davis in Kennewick.

Copyright 2018 Tri-City Herald

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