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Overdose caused death, report confirms

The Sheriff's Office says it appears that Jason Ernst took the painkiller oxycodone before passing out.

By BRADY DENNIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001


ZEPHYRHILLS -- Officials confirmed that a 24-year-old New Port Richey man died Sunday after overdosing on a powerful pain medication at the Livestock music festival.

Jason Ernst of 5701 Mockingbird Road was pronounced dead about 4 p.m. at East Pasco Medical Center.

Friends found Ernst unconscious in his tent on the concert grounds about 3:45 a.m. Saturday, Sheriff's Office spokesman Jon Powers said.

He had stopped breathing, and after rescue workers failed to revive him, he was taken to the hospital.

A sheriff's report stated that it appeared as if Ernst took the prescription painkiller oxycodone before passing out.

Oxycodone is a heavy-duty painkiller often prescribed to cancer patients and others with serious illnesses. Forty-three people in Pinellas and Pasco counties died last year after taking the drug, up from 10 in 1997, according to the District Six medical examiner.

Officials at East Pasco Medical Center said they saw a total of 65 patients from Livestock over the weekend, 19 of whom were overdose patients. The other cases were cuts, bruises and other minor injuries.

"It's pretty comparable to past years," said Aimee Keller, the hospital's administrative director. "Our staff was not overstressed. We staffed accordingly based on what was done in the past."

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office reported making four arrests over the weekend. Those included charges of aggravated assault, resisting arrest with violence, trespassing, using counterfeit money and one drug-related arrest.

Deputies also ejected 12 people for fighting or other forms of disorderly conduct. Only four overdoses were reported to the Sheriff's Office, Powers said.

"Normally, this is a reasonably cooperative bunch," he said. "Most are not there to hassle us or start trouble, but there are always a few."

In addition, a pregnant woman suffered minor injuries in a crash on U.S. 301. An ambulance was involved in a minor wreck at the vendors' gate at the park. And firefighters put out a fire started on the north end of the property.

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