A drug overdose killed him. Cleaning up the aftermath likely killed his mom, coroner says

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) staff in Sterling, Va. use gloves to handle drugs seized during a raid.
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) staff in Sterling, Va. use gloves to handle drugs seized during a raid. AP

She found him passed out in the bathroom, surrounded by drug paraphernalia.

Ronald Plummer, 45, was rushed to a central Pennsylvania hospital unresponsive on Nov. 5, following his suspected overdose. His mother, 69-year-old Theresa Plummer, watched over Ronald in intensive care, WPXI reports.

When she left his bedside to return to her Portage, Penn. home, she got to work cleaning up the mess in the bathroom, WJAC reports.

But soon, Theresa Plummer became short of breath, WJAC reports, and had to go to the hospital herself.

Theresa Plummer died at the hospital on Nov. 6, the day after her son’s overdose, WPXI reports – and local officials suspect that her efforts to clean up her son’s drug paraphernalia had something to do with it. Her son, Ronald, died the day after his mother, according to WPXI.

The coroner told WPXI that he believes the mother likely reacted badly to touching her son’s drug paraphernalia, or even absorbed a substance that was in the bathroom through her skin. He said it’s unlikely she took the drugs on purpose.

“This is a caution for safety for anyone coming into contact with any type of powder substance,” Cambria County Coroner Jeff Lees told WJAC. “You should use extreme caution and notify the proper authorities.”

Though any drugs involved in the case have yet to be identified, WPXI reports, increasingly powerful drugs like fentanyl have made it more challenging for families, first responders and others across the country to handle overdoses, many of which are a result of opioids like heroin and fentanyl, which is especially deadly.

“It can come into your system in any way. You can inhale it. You can ingest it,” Roxanne Franckowski, a chemist with Cayman Chemical Co. in Michigan, told CNN in June. “If your hand is exposed and you touch fentanyl, it can be absorbed that way.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration warned police and paramedics across the country in June that they should take steps to prepare themselves and prevent exposure to deadly drugs like fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be as much as 50 times more powerful than heroin, a more common opioid, according to the DEA.

It will take six to eight weeks for toxicology reports on the mother and son to come back, WPXI reports, and those results are likely to reveal what drug or substance played a role in their deaths.

“My strong advice to any family that may have this happen to them is to call law enforcement to have them or EMS services come back and remove the substance or material that may have been left behind,” Lees, the coroner, told WJAC.

Theresa Plummer enjoyed spending time with her grandchildren, and rescuing animals, according to her obituary. Her son, Ronald, enjoyed sports and spending time outdoors, his obituary says.