A DRUGS user died after he was given the heroin-substitute methadone, an inquest heard yesterday.

The Durham inquest heard that Gary Foster, 40, of Moorside, Consett, County Durham, was admitted to hospital last June after police found him wandering in a haze.

Mr Foster, who was divorced and had a history of drug and mental health problems, was first admitted to Durham's County Hospital.

Believing that his GP had been prescribing him a daily dose of 50mg of methadone, doctors ordered that he should start on 20mg of the drug, with the dosage being gradually increased to 50mg.

He was transferred to Shotley Bridge Hospital, and on the morning of June 21, staff found him in a coma.

Mr Foster was taken to the University Hospital of North Durham's intensive care unit, where his methadone treatment was suspended for about 24 hours.

He awoke from the coma and the methadone treatment was resumed, but Mr Foster died on June 23.

Penelope Snarr, whose home Mr Foster had been staying at for the past year, said he had not been taking the methadone prescribed by his GP, but had sold it instead.

Dr John Young, of Consett Medical Centre, gave evidence that he had only prescribed 40mg a day, which he believed Mr Foster had been taking.

Mrs Snarr said that on the night he died, she saw him taking methadone.

She said: "Gary said he thought they were giving him too much.

"He told us he was going to sue the hospital.

"I wish I had thought about it. I did not know it was dangerous."

Mr Foster died of methadone toxicity.

Dr Timothy Petterson, a consultant physician at the University Hospital, said: "My understanding is that when the gentleman awoke from his coma, the senior clinician did make contact with the previous carers.

"I am assured that that is what happened, but there is no documentation of that."

North Durham coroner Andrew Tweddle recorded a verdict of misadventure.

He said: "There are a number of elements surrounding Gary's death that I find disquieting.

"The outcome was most unexpected, and probably should have been avoided.

"I think there are lessons to be learned in the way that people with drugs issues are dealt with in the system."