Fatality inquiry probes drug-overdose death of CFB Edmonton soldier

Fatality inquiry probes drug-overdose death of CFB Edmonton soldier

The family of a soldier who died of a drug overdose hopes this week's fatality inquiry in Edmonton will prevent future deaths.

It's been just over five years since Lt. Shawna Rogers, 27, was found dead in her apartment after her family frantically tried to reach her for days.

After spending tens of thousands of dollars on travel and accommodations for ongoing legal proceedings, just to get to this point, the family said it can't afford a lawyer for the week-long inquiry.

The family has decided to represent itself at the inquiry.

If the inquiry prevents the death of "one kid, I'm happy," said Rogers's father, Rick, leaning on a cane outside provincial court in Edmonton Tuesday.

"He's been fighting since the day she died for this day," said Rogers's sister, Amy.

By midday Tuesday, the family were huddled around a table in a courtroom, surrounded by thick binders and a laptop.

On the other side of the courtroom, four lawyers representing the Canadian Forces and a first witness, took notes. The witness, Dr. James Schimpf, who was Rogers's physician at CFB Edmonton, took the stand.

Under examination, Schimpf described treating Rogers over several years for the back injury she sustained in 2008 after falling over backwards wearing a heavy pack.

Physiotherapy and anti-inflammatory drugs didn't work, said Schimpf. The pain escalated. Less-conventional pain medication didn't help either.

Schimpf said he prescribed oxycodone when Rogers was first injured. At some point, Schimpf also tried other opioids such as oxycontin and hydromorphone.

"We tried a number of narcotics, one at a time — and safely, I believe," he said, adding they would frequently discuss the risk of addiction.

Drug-seeking behaviour

At some point, he said Rogers showed "signs of drug seeking behaviour" and became "hard to get along with." That behaviour included trying to get prescriptions filled too early or elsewhere, and once even saying her dog knocked over her pills.

A test for street drugs came back positive.

But weaning Rogers off opioids wasn't working, said Schimpf, who said he didn't have experience with drug abuse. 

He said Rogers resisted and denied she had a problem "right to the bitter end." 

There were other obstacles to her treatment.

Schimpf said an addictions counsellor at the base concluded Rogers didn't have a problem after assessing her in May 2012. Another physician doubled Rogers's pain medication dosage.

In May 2012, Schimpf and Rogers entered into an unusual "narcotic agreement" as Schimpf sought safeguards, he said. Rogers agreed he would be the only physician permitted to prescribe her narcotics.

But that summer, another physician took over after Schimpf was injured in a motor vehicle accident. Two months later, Rogers was dead.

The inquiry will also hear from Rogers's addictions specialist, her parents and former boyfriend, and an army captain.

Judge Susan Richardson will report her findings to the Alberta Office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General. The judge can't assign blame but can make recommendations to prevent similar deaths.