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Brian Joyce died from medication overdose, examiner says

Brian Joyce leaves the federal courthouse in Worcester on Dec. 7, 2017.
Brian Joyce leaves the federal courthouse in Worcester on Dec. 7, 2017.John Tlumacki/Globe staff/file

Former state senator Brian A. Joyce, who was found dead in his home in late September, died from an overdose of a powerful medication that’s typically used to treat insomnia, the state’s chief medical examiner’s office said Tuesday.

Joyce, 56, died of “acute pentobarbital intoxication,” but the medical examiner was unable to determine the manner of his death, including whether it was an accident or suicide.

The office of Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III has said that no foul play was suspected.

Quinn’s office said in a statement Tuesday night that a postmortem toxicology test found elevated levels of pentobarbital, a powerful sedative, and a “slightly elevated level” of citalopram, an antidepressant.

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“At this time, we are reviewing the autopsy report and all other attendant circumstances to determine whether further investigation is warranted,” the statement said.

Joyce, formerly of Milton, was found dead by his wife, Mary, at their Westport home on Sept. 27.

Joyce had pleaded not guilty last year to a 113-count indictment charging him with mail fraud, corruption, money laundering, and embezzlement.

Federal authorities had accused him of collecting about $1 million in bribes and kickbacks since 2010 through various alleged schemes.

Pentobarbital is a powerful sedative that’s available by prescription, one that is often used in the euthanasia of animals, according to Dr. Daryl L. Davies, a professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Pharmacy.

Some states have also used the drug as part of a cocktail in court-ordered executions, and it is used in physician-assisted suicide in other countries.

“They’re normally [prescribed] with close scrutiny because they can be so lethal,” Davies said of the drug.

“If you mix this with alcohol, it’s straight to the grave. These things are very potent in that regard, they’re cheap, cheap, cheap, and they’re very dangerous.”

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Efforts to reach Howard M. Cooper, who was Joyce’s attorney, were not successful Tuesday evening.

Police have said that Joyce was also involved in a single-vehicle crash on Sept. 26, but it’s unclear whether that had any direct connection to his death.

According to a Westport Police Department report, officers responded at 4:35 a.m. to Sodom Road, where Joyce said he had swerved to avoid hitting a deer, crashed through a utility pole, and then struck a fence.

Joyce was evaluated by Westport fire officials but declined treatment.

The Democrat had served as a lawmaker for decades and had climbed the ranks of leadership in the Senate.

In early 2016, Joyce announced that he would not seek reelection to the Senate.

A former state representative who was first elected to the Senate in 1997, he was an early proponent of marriage equality and a supporter of public education.

He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2001, losing to now-Democratic Representative Stephen Lynch.

Joyce was charged in December 2017 in a sweeping indictment that accused him of taking bribes and kickbacks that he laundered through his law firm and turning his public office into a criminal enterprise.

The accusations followed stories published in the Globe that examined his mingling
of public and personal business.

Joyce, who was free on bond, had pleaded not guilty to the 113-count indictment.

Prosecutors said, among other things, that Joyce had extorted a Jeep from a Milton developer and collected more than $100,000 in phony legal fees from the owner of a Dunkin’ Donuts shop, in exchange for using his influence to help them.

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The indictment painted Joyce as using the power of his Senate office to help those who allegedly provided bribes and kickbacks to him.

The US attorney in Massachusetts, Andrew E. Lelling, formally dismissed the charges against Joyce in October, citing his death, according to a court filing.

Joyce’s family has asked that donations be made in his memory to the Innocence Project, to “help the victims of wrongful prosecution.”

The Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization based in New York, seeks to exonerate the wrongly convicted through the use of DNA evidence.


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.