Danielle Steel’s Son Overdosed, Tests Say — (THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE)

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October 15, 1997

Author: Charlie Goodyear, Chronicle Staff Writer

Blood tests released yesterday by the Contra Costa coroner’s office show that Nicholas Traina, son of novelist Danielle Steel, may not have been taking enough of his antidepressant medicine when he died of a heroin overdose.   The results seem to support what Steel said about her son — that he was manic depressive and suffered from mental illness.   According to toxicology reports, Traina, 19, had 0.20 milligrams of morphine, a byproduct of heroin, in his blood when a friend discovered his body at Traina’s Pleasant Hill apartment on September 20.

Contra Costa Deputy Coroner James Flanagan noted yesterday that that amount of morphine is in the “toxic to fatal range.”  In an interview with The Chronicle after her son’s death, Steel says he struggled with drug addiction and had suffered neurological damage at birth.  “The only time he messed around with drugs was when his medications failed and he was desperate,” Steel said. “This was not some wild kid, this was a very sick kid. The awful thing is I knew for years.”  A blood sample taken from Traina tested negative for cocaine, methamphetamine or alcohol.  But a county pathologist ordered additional tests for several antidepressants.

The results of those tests came back yesterday and showed that while ranges were normal for the drug Prozac, Traina had not apparently been taking the prescribed level of the antidepressant Lithium.  Tests showed only 0.09 milligrams of Lithium in his blood. The level should have been in the 0.30 to 1.2 milligram range per a doctor’s prescription, according to the coroner’s report.  Before his death, Traina had formed a punk rock band and was playing at Bay Area clubs.  His band mates have said Traina looked down on heroin addicts and was pulling his life together.  But Julie Campbell, a chemical dependency counselor who tried to help Traina, said she believed he committed suicide.  Traina had been in and out of hospitals and had made several overdose attempts, she told The Chronicle last month.