A friend of attorney Ben Greene said his friend was on prescription medication — not illegal drugs — when he collapsed June 20 during a 5k run in 107-degree heat.
On Friday the Kern County Coroner’s office, in a press release, stated that the cause of Greene’s accidental death was “Hypertensive and Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease with Contributing Factors of Methamphetamine and Phentermine Intoxication.”
That means Greene had high blood pressure and possibly a build-up of plaque in his circulatory system, according to local doctors.
And it means that the drugs Phentermine and methamphetamine contributed to the cardiac event that killed him.
But Adam Dodsworth, Greene’s friend, said the local attorney hadn’t taken an illegal substance.
“Ben did see a doctor and he was given a prescription for a diet related pill,” Dodsworth said. “The drug contains the substances that were found within the coroner’s report. He was taking that on a doctor’s prescription.”
Greene had not been taking the drug for long, he said.
“Ben saw a doctor on the day of the run and was deemed fine to run,” Dodsworth said.
Two local doctors explained a little more about the two drugs, what they do and why they can create complications for people with heart issues.
Dr. Jan Trobisch, of Synergy Wellness in Bakersfield, said there is a legal prescription drug, Desoxyn, which is essentially methamphetamine.
It is used, primarily, to treat ADHD, he said. Its secondary use is to help patients lose weight.
Desoxyn would come out in a blood test as methamphetamine, Trobisch said.
Phentermine is a weight loss drug.
Trobisch runs an addiction treatment practice and also does weight loss and beauty treatments. He is very familiar with the other drug that the coroner’s office said was in Greene’s system. Phentermine is a weight loss drug that Trobisch often prescribes to patients.
He said his practice has been very careful to double check whether Phentermine can show up in drug tests as methamphetamine.
“Phentermine can test positive as amphetamine, not methamphetamine,” he said.
Dr. Joshua Tobias, medicial director of the Emergency Department for Adventist Health in Bakersfield, said, based on the coroner’s report’s definition alone, it appeared Greene had high blood pressure and a buildup of plaque in his arteries.
“That means that’s something that has been a condition for a long time,” he said.
Adding methamphetamine could be dangerous for a person like that, Tobias said.
“It’s a stimulant. It’s going to ramp up everything. Heart rate. Blood pressure. Metabolism,” he said. “If somebody has underlying blood pressure (issues) and you add a stimulant to that in the heat, that could be dangerous.”
Trobisch said Phentermine and Desoxyn are similar drugs.
“Those two medications should never be taken together,” he said, noting that each drug would intensify the other's individual effect.
The Kern County Sheriff’s Coroner’s office would not respond to requests from The Californian to discuss the cause of death announced in Friday’s press release.
“I received a response from the Coroner's Office manager regarding your question,” wrote Kern County Sheriff’s Sergeant David Hubbard Tuesday. “She advised that the Coroner’s Office does not comment on the findings from Coroner's reports and that if you are trying to determine if a positive result for methamphetamine could be from a diet drug, you will have to seek a response from another professional in the medical field.”
The Californian has requested a full copy of the Coroner’s report on Greene but has not yet received it. In the past such documents have taken weeks to be made available.