Los Angeles Angels pitcher dies young, questions surround nature of death

By Katherine Coble || News Editor

Photo courtesy of latimes.com

The baseball world was rocked last week with the release of Tyler Skaggs’ toxicology report by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner. Skaggs, 27, was a rising star within the Los Angeles Angels organization and newly married during the 2018-19 offseason. He was found unresponsive on July 1, 2019 in a Southlake, Texas hotel room during a road trip to play a four-game series against the Texas Rangers and pronounced dead shortly thereafter. Although the police announced neither suicide nor foul play were suspected in the days following the incident, the cause of Skaggs death was unknown until recently.

The coroner’s inquest revealed the cause of death as “terminal aspiration of gastric contents” while Skaggs was intoxicated with a mix of fentanyl and oxycontin, both opioids, and alcohol. He thus essentially choked to death on his own vomit as a result of his intoxication. The coroner’s report referred to this fatal combination as an “accidental overdose.”

The combination of multiple opioids and alcohol, all of which serve as central nervous system depressants, were found in large enough quantities to result in death according to the Los Angeles Times. Oxycodone, a prescription painkiller, is prohibited by the MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Fentanyl, a synthetic drug which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, is also an automatically banned substance in the MLB. The lack of norfentanyl- a metabolite of the drug – in Skaggs’ system indicates the fentanyl was likely consumed shortly before his death, according to forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. Skaggs’ blood alcohol level was 0.122%, fourteen times higher than the legal level of impairment. According to the University of Notre Dame, coma and death from alcohol poisoning becomes increasingly likely with a 0.40% BAC or above. 

As if these toxicology results were not shocking enough, the baseball world continues to be rocked by allegations that a Los Angeles Angels employee was involved in Skaggs’ death. A statement released by the family stated they “were shocked to learn that [his death] may involve an employee of the Los Angeles Angels.” They added that they would “not rest until we learn the truth about how Tyler came into possession of these narcotics.” The clear implication of this statement is that an Angels employee was involved in supplying drugs to Skaggs. The Angels have this far declined to comment on these allegations, referring to the ongoing nature of the investigation. Both the family and the MLB have hired top attorneys in the Fort Worth area as this investigation continues.

Opioid abuse has been considered a nationwide public health emergency by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services since 2017, although its origins lie in the overprescription of intense painkillers by doctors in the 1990s. According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 700,000 Americans have died from a drug overdose since 1999. In an average day, 130 Americans will die from an opioid overdose—which evens out to one death every eleven minutes. 

Tyler Skaggs is just the latest high-profile death tied to the abuse of opioids. He was a first-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Angels and spent several years with the Arizona Diamondbacks organizations before returning to the Angels in 2013. At the time of his death he was the team leader in wins and strikeouts for the 2018 season, and a growing star within the organization. A native of nearby Santa Monica, CA, he was a resident of his hometown until his death.

Senior Katherine Coble is the News Editor. Her email is kcoble@fandm.edu. 

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