Lawyer dies after taking sedatives bought from illicit websites, inquest hears

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Assistant Coroner Ian Potter has now written to the Culture Secretary about the dangers of the sites (Image: Getty)

A coroner has issued a warning after a ‘highly talented’ lawyer died from taking a cocktail of prescription-only medicines she had bought from illicit websites.

For four years before her death Dr Kimberly Liu had been repeatedly buying sedatives online, an inquest heard.

The 40-year-old – a teaching fellow at Durham University – had become addicted to sleeping pills and painkillers, the hearing was told.

But while her GP had prescribed her some medications, the Harvard Law School graduate had regularly sought out others on the internet.

Dr Liu was found unresponsive by her husband at her London home in February 2023 and was pronounced dead due to ‘mixed drug toxicity’.

Assistant Coroner Ian Potter has now written to the Culture Secretary, Lucy Frazer MP, warning about the dangers of the unregulated websites used by Dr Liu.

In his Prevention of Future Deaths report he redacted the names of the drugs and the online sites she accessed.

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But he warned they were placing potential customers in ‘grave danger’.

“The evidence revealed that from at least 2019, Kimberly Liu had regularly accessed websites specifically aimed at selling prescription-only medications (predominantly medications with a sedative effect) that allowed repeat orders on the same day and did not require a prescription,” he said.

“Despite the different URLs some of the websites appear to be operated by the same company and/or individual(s), in that ordering using an identical WhatsApp number was also permitted.

“Correspondence from the websites, following an order being placed, included messaging that suggested that the operator(s) knew that their supply of such medication was likely to arouse regulatory suspicion.

“By way of example, messaging received in emails following the placing of an order, included the following: ‘This is to inform you that usage of the name “Sleeping Tablets” during the payment at the banks is prohibited. Kindly do not use the brand name as it can be harmful for us.

“’DO NOT MENTION THE PRODUCT OR WEBSITE WHEN MAKING PAYMENT’. “

Mr Potter – who covers Inner North London – said that on one occasion in December 2021 one website permitted identical orders of tablets within nine minutes of each other, ‘without question or checks’.

“Three days later a further order of was again permitted without any query,” he added.

“The concern here is that these websites, and potentially other similar websites, are not only operating without regulation, but that they appear to exploit already vulnerable individuals by facilitating an almost unseen feeding of dangerous medication addictions thereby placing those individuals in grave danger.”

Mr Potter said the websites could aid in suicide attempts.

“I believe that consideration ought to be given to the impact that the availability of such websites has on the population at large, together with the significantly increased risks to those who have developed an addiction to such medications or may even be contemplating acts of self-harm,” he said.

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“I also believe that consideration ought to be given to whether and what action(s) could be taken to remove or limit access to or the availability of such websites.”

The inquest last month was told that Dr Liu – an American who got her Ph.D. from University College, London – had become addicted to sleeping tablets, painkilling medication, and other medications ‘with a sedative effect’ in the years prior to her death.

“On 7 February this year she was found unresponsive at home by her husband and an ambulance was called,” the coroner said. “Paramedics verified her death at home.

“Post-mortem toxicological analysis revealed numerous prescription-only medications in Dr Liu’s blood at the time of her death.

“Some of these medications had been prescribed by Dr Liu’s general practitioner and were at or about therapeutic levels; whereas other medications, which had not been prescribed by her GP, were found at levels suggestive of excessive use.”

Mr Potter recorded a verdict of drug related death.

Writing to Mrs Frazer, he said: “In my opinion action should be taken to prevent future deaths and I believe you have the power to take such action.”

The Culture Secretary has until February 15 to respond.

According to an obituary published in the Washington Post, Dr Liu attended Virginia University, Harvard Law School, the London School of Economics and UCL.

At the time of her death, she was a teaching fellow in employment law at Durham University, it said.

“This enchanting daughter, sister, and wife was the light of our lives. The depth of our sorrow at her passing is beyond description.”

In a tribute from UCL, Professor Colm O’Cinneide described her as a ‘wonderful person: thoughtful, caring and possessed of remarkable intelligence’

Professor Eloise Scotford, Dean of UCL Faculty of Laws, said she was a ‘highly talented and generous young legal academic’.

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