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Due to its lethal potency, the synthetic opioid named fentanyl has claimed hundreds of Hoosiers’ lives in recent years.

Indianapolis Star

Internationally regarded as a brilliant researcher, David Boothman helped pioneer a promising approach to fighting cancer by turning diseased cells against themselves in a process he dubbed the Kiss of Death.

The work helped draw Boothman to Indiana in 2017 to serve as the inaugural Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Chair in Cancer Research at the Indiana University School of Medicine and associate director of Translational Research at the Simon Cancer Center.

His hire was a significant coup for the school. But Boothman will never get the opportunity to see if his research translates into saving lives.

He’s dead.

Dr. David Boothman (Photo: WFAA)

Boothman died after a nurse at the Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis mistakenly administered a massive dose of fentanyl — a synthetic opioid nearly 100 time stronger than morphine — instead of a benign hydrating solution as he recovered from a stroke.

The 61-year-old molecular biologist’s death on Nov. 1, 2019, came a week after the medication error. The fentanyl depressed his blood pressure, causing brain damage that pushed Boothman into an irreversible coma. An autopsy revealed he died from respiratory failure following the fentanyl overdose. The coroner ruled his death an accident.

For the last 10 months, his widow, Dr. Sue Strickfaden, has been locked in a malpractice dispute with the hospital, the flagship of the public Health & Hospital Corp. of Marion County. Officials acknowledged the medical error but denied the mistake caused Boothman’s death, according to her attorney, Michael J. Woody of Findling Park Conyers Woody & Sniderman.

But this week the hospital proposed a settlement with Strickfaden. The offer came after IndyStar interviewed Woody, Strickfaden and others and then reached out to HHC with questions about Boothman’s death. The confidential settlement, which has not been finalized, prohibits the parties from discussing this case. This story is based on those prior interviews.

Boothman’s death culminated what Woody called a “tragic circus of errors” that occurred during his two-week stay at Eskenazi last October. 

Strickfaden was seeking compensation for “the loss of the love, care, affection and support of her husband,” Woody said. But her ultimate goal is broader: She wants the hospital to be held accountable so no one else dies from a mistake like the one she contends killed her husband, he said.

“The main issue is how lethal and dangerous fentanyl is as a medication, not just on the streets but even in the hospitals, and how little the very people that are in the hospital handling it actually seem to have been trained,” Strickfaden said. “I think and I hope that that certainly will change.”

An Eskenazi Health spokesperson said in a written statement Oct. 21 that they cannot talk about the case because of privacy laws and the