28 Sep 2019

Mother allegedly poisoned child

9:34 am on 28 September 2019

By Rob Kidd for the Otago Daily Times

A North Otago woman is accused of deliberately poisoning her own toddler with pharmaceutical eye drops, nasal sprays and antidepressants.

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Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The defendant - aged in her 30s - appeared before the Dunedin District Court this week, where she was declined bail and granted name suppression by Judge Michael Crosbie.

She faces seven counts of intending to cause grievous bodily harm by administering poison - a rarely seen charge which carries a maximum of 14 years' imprisonment.

A family member confirmed to the Otago Daily Times the child had been discharged from hospital but was reluctant to go into detail about the child's condition.

"At this time our family don't want to speak about it," she said.

Two alleged poisonings occurred in Dunedin on 16 August, while the remaining charges span five days in Auckland.

As well as "pharmacy-only eye-drop medication", court documents specified the substances the defendant allegedly administered to her son were sertraline, tetrahydrozoline, naphazoline, pheniramine and antazoline.

Associate Prof Dr Ivan Sammut, of the University of Otago department of pharmacology and toxicology, said sertraline was used to combat depression while the others were antihistamines, non-inflammatories or decongestants usually present in eye drops and nasal sprays.

Such substances were not prescribed to toddlers and depending on dosage, they could have catastrophic consequences.

The defendant allegedly combined the depression medication with the others, something Dr Sammut said could be particularly dangerous.

An immediate increase in heart rate would be followed by a swift decline and "a massive drop in core temperature".

Eye drops could likewise create problems.

"A child with a small body volume, there's a very good chance the drops will penetrate faster into the circulation because the tissues aren't as well formed," Dr Sammut said.

Because the majority of the alleged offending occurred in Auckland, the matter was transferred from Dunedin to the Auckland District Court.

Two Auckland-based detectives were in court to see the defendant's first appearance this week.

She will appear again next month and, ultimately, the matter may be transferred to the High Court.

- This story was first published on the Otago Daily Times website.