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High school QB died from taking grandmother’s methadone

Jonathan Wall
Prep Rally

Only two weeks have passed since the community of Burlington, North Carolina first came to grips with the news that Williams (North Carolina) High School quarterback Harry Cohen had died suddenly, just days after he led his school to a big victory in its home opener.

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Cohen's death was a shock to everyone in the community, and it left people wondering what had caused such a tragic turn of events. The quarterback had appeared to be in good spirits when he left the field, but many still wondered if a hit in the game had set something off in his body.

On Wednesday, the Burlington Times News obtained the medical examiner's report, which stated Cohen had not died from a blow to the head, but instead from taking his grandmother's methadone prescription. The medication, usually taken by patients to treat fibromyalgia, is lethal in small doses.

"There was nothing to absorb the medicine," Richard Kaffenberger, Cohen's stepfather, told the Times News. "It caused him to stop breathing, and he went into cardiac arrest."

Unlike most overdoses, the medical examiner noted Cohen's death was accidental. As the Time News reported, the Williams quarterback, apparently in some deal of pain after his team's victory, came home to find his grandmother's methadone medication and figured it was OK to take for his aches and pains.

At some point, Cohen went in a back room to visit with the dog. His parents think that's probably when he saw the bottle of methadone prescribed to his grandmother who suffers from fibromyalgia.

"Take two every four hours as needed for pain."

The directions were clear on the bottle. The Kaffenbergers still don't know if Cohen took one or two before he went to bed on the night of Aug. 27.

While Cohen's stepfather noted that the doctors weren't sure if Harry had ingested one or two pills, he said he was told that even half a methadone pill could have killed his son.

"That night, for whatever reason, he took them for pain," Kaffenberger told the Times News. "You're 17, perfectly healthy and invincible and your feeble grandmother can take six a day, why would wouldn't you take a few for pain?"

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Cohen's tragic death is a perfect example of why you should never take an unknown medication. Sure, the bottle said the pills would relieve pain, but unless you know exactly what kind of pain it's going to relieve, you run the serious risk of putting your life in danger by ingesting even a single pill.

That's a caustic lesson that will linger as part of Cohen's legacy in circles far beyond his teammates, who now have to move on knowing just how avoidable his death may have been.

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