Parents Seek Punitive Damages Against Center Over Son's Fentanyl Overdose

Fentanyl - Opioid pain medication

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The parents of a 27-year-old man who died of a fentanyl overdose at a drug and alcohol recovery center in 2020 want to file an amended lawsuit seeking punitive damages against the Echo Park facility, alleging the program director acknowledged in a deposition that the program is being operated without a license required by state law.

Jon Kent Zediker and Kathleen Ennis brought the original wrongful death suit in Los Angeles Superior Court in February 2021 against the Dream Center Foundation, which operates a 24-hour residential facility on Bellevue Avenue with ties to the Angelus Temple, a Pentecostal house of worship affiliated with the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

The plaintiffs are the parents of the late Jonathan Scott Hand. They maintain their son obtained the drugs from a roommate who also died at the same facility the previous day of an overdose.

"Drugs were brought into defendants' facility because they lacked the necessary staff to perform effective searches of incoming residents and residents returning from a (temporary leave)," the plaintiffs' attorneys state in their court papers. "The insufficient staffing of defendants' program is a direct result of their failure to obtain a license and subsequent lack of regulation by the state."

The program director stated in a deposition that the program remains unlicensed and that disclosures are not made to incoming members that it is unlicensed, according to the plaintiffs' attorneys' court papers.

"The way the program is operated, which is in violation of California law, directly led to the death of Jonathan," the plaintiffs' attorneys argue in their court papers.

State regulation would have required increased and improved staffing so that drugs would not so easily have entered the facility and Hand would have been searched in addition to being drug-tested when his roommate overdosed, according to the plaintiffs' attorneys' court papers.

Instead, the Dream Center employed three unqualified people to supervise about 145 individuals, the plaintiffs' attorneys allege in their court papers.

A hearing on the motion to file an amended complaint is scheduled Aug. 3 before Judge Daniel M. Crowley.

Hand had a history of addiction and became a resident of the Dream Center facility in January 2020. He acknowledged his dependency on alcohol and drugs and sought to overcome his condition, according to the suit.

Prior to Hand's admission, the Dream Center staff assured Hand and his parents that the residential program was appropriate for him and that the employees had the skills to treat his problem because they had helped thousands of other people in his shoes, according to the lawsuit.

On Feb. 8, 2020, the Dream Center staff became aware that Hand's roommate "brought illicit drugs onto the premises," the suit alleges. That same day, the roommate died of a drug overdose at the facility, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs maintain the Dream Center staff should have known that drug use by other residents would increase the risk that other individuals, including Hand, would also be encouraged to use narcotics. However, the center did not have adequate policies and procedures to search for illicit drugs on its premises, the suit alleges.

On Feb. 9, 2020, less than 24 hours after his roommate's overdose, Hand was found dead in his room, according to the suit.

The Dream Center holds itself out as offering a safe, drug-free environment for obtaining treatment for addiction yet did not follow its own policies and procedures, let alone state regulations, that govern addiction rehabilitation facilities and are designed to protect people like Hand, the suit alleges.

In their court papers, Dream Center Foundation attorneys deny the plaintiffs' allegations and say any damages they suffered were caused by their son's own negligence.

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