NC dentist's license suspended after patient sedation death

By DrBicuspid Staff

September 22, 2014 -- A North Carolina dentist's license was suspended by the state dental board following the apparent overdose death of his patient last October.

The North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners ruled that Williamston dentist Zachary Harrison, DDS, be barred from practicing dentistry in the state for one to 10 years because he failed to properly consider his 71-year-old patient's medical and physical condition, failed to properly dose the patient with a sedative, and failed to give the patient a rescue drug, according to a newsobserver.com story.

The board suspended Dr. Harrison's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) registration and moderate sedation permit last December because of the "threat to the public health, safety, and welfare."

Dr. Harrison's patient, James T. Williams, was sedated with 10 mg of midazolam last September 30 during an appointment for extractions in preparation for dentures, according to the dental board. Williams became "unresponsive and pulseless" during the operation, and emergency services were called. Williams was eventually air-lifted to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, where he was removed from ventilation on October 1.

Dr. Harrison didn't properly consider Williams' age, weight, and other factors in setting the dose of midazolam, and did not gradually increase the medication, as required by state rules, the board ruled.

Dentists are required to gather patient information before sedative surgeries, including a list of medications the patient is currently taking, the board noted. Although Dr. Harrison's staff had spoken to Williams' cardiologist earlier, the board found that they failed to discuss health history and medications. Less than 25 minutes after Williams was given midazolam, a member of Dr. Harrison's staff sent a message to the patient's cardiologist requesting a list of his medications.

Dr. Harrison apparently tried to revive the patient through chest compressions but did not administer drugs such as flumazenil, the board said. The board's report noted that he also failed to give Williams oxygen through an available mask. Dr. Harrison testified later that he had panicked.

Dr. Harrison may apply to restore his license in a year, after he has completed specially designed education courses.

The board is now considering changes to sedation training and requirements for dentists.


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