Five-Year-Old Boy Dies After Fatal Dose of OxyContin, Parents Charged

By Kelly Burch 08/17/16

Charles and Jennifer Burks have been charged with second-degree manslaughter and face up to 15 years in prison. 

Five-Year-Old Boy Dies After Fatal Dose of OxyContin, Parents Charged

A 5-year-old New York boy died after his parents gave him the prescription pain pill OxyContin. The parents were arrested and arraigned last week and are now facing second-degree manslaughter charges in connection to the May death, according to the Washington Post.

At the time of his death, the child weighed just 19 pounds, about half the weight of an average 5-year-old. Broome County District Attorney Steve Cornwell told the Washington Post that the boy had developmental and medical issues, and needed specialized care. The boy’s parents, however, “Took it upon themselves to self-medicate the child,” he said.

Cornwell added: “It’s alleged that the parents failed to get the proper treatment for the child in a timely manner.” Instead, Charles and Jennifer Burks of Endicott, New York, crushed OxyContin and gave it to their kindergarten-aged son. Police arrived at the Burks’ household on May 7 in response to a medical call, and the boy was transported to the hospital. It is not clear whether he died at home or in the hospital.

After the boy’s death, his parents left New York and lived in a campsite in North Carolina. They were arrested upon their return to New York on August 11. The second-degree manslaughter charges that the parents are facing can lead to up to 15 years in prison. 

The parents, who are both in their 40s, have other adult children. Officials did not say whether the family had a history with Child Protective Services. However, the Washington Post did report that Charles Burks is a registered sex offender in New York and North Carolina. In 1998, he was convicted of third-degree rape of a 15-year-old girl. 

In this case, investigators believe the parents intentionally gave OxyContin to their child. However, in a growing number of cases, children are accidentally overdosing on opiate pain killers. According to research published in the Journal of Pediatrics and reported in the New York Times, accidental poisonings among young children rose 22% between 2001 and 2008.

Another report in the Annals of Emergency Medicine looked at accidental overdoses in children under six between 2003 and 2006. During that time, 9,179 children were exposed to an opiate, leading to eight deaths, 43 disabling or life-threatening incidents, and 214 incidents that caused "prolonged effects but were not life threatening."  

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Kelly Burch Contrib.jpg

Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.