Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2004 | 9:35 a.m.
A medical examiner concluded Monday that a 33-year-old Green Valley Ranch Station executive's death last month was caused by an overdose of a powerful painkiller and alcohol.
The Clark County coroner's office ruled that Michael John Tata's death was accidental. Tata had fentanyl in his system, which a pharmacist described as an opiate more powerful than Oxycontin or morphine.
"It's a really, really strong pain reliever and it would be used to treat cancer pain, any kind of extreme pain," said Jack Paige, an inspector-investigator and pharmacist with the Nevada State Board of Pharmacy. "If you get your teeth pulled, you're not going to get this."
Fentanyl comes in three forms: a lozenge on a stick, a patch and in liquid form administered intravenously. The lozenge form of the drug in a dose of 1,600 micrograms was found on a nightstand next to Tata's bed, according to the police report.
It's not clear if Tata had a medical condition that would result in pain or if any other drugs were found in his system, but the combination of the fentanyl and alcohol were the only factors in his death, Fudenberg said.
John Fudenberg, assistant coroner for Clark County, declined to say whether Tata had a perscription for fentanyl, citing confidentiality laws.
However, a Henderson Police investigation, which is ongoing, found Tata did not have a perscription for fentanyl. Police aren't yet certain how Tata obtained the drug, police spokesman Keith Paul said, but it doesn't appear "he has been trying to go around town trying to obtain fentanyl."
Tata's obituary asks for mourners to make donations in his name to Gilda's Club, an international organization that provides emotional and social support to those affected by cancer.
Tata, who was vice president of hotel operations and was prominently featured on "American Casino," the Discovery Channel's reality show based on the resort, was found dead July 6 in his home on the 1100 block of Spago Lane in Henderson.
Dr. Larry Sims, the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy, determined Tata's death was accidental "based on the totality of the circumstances, the investigation combined with his findings at the autopsy," as well as the levels of drugs and alcohol found in his body, Fudenberg said.
Fudenberg said he could not release the amount of fentanyl or alcohol in Tata's system. That information is available only to his legal next of kin, he said.
Police reports released Monday noted that officers who responded to the 911 call from Tata's roommate and found a prescription type wrapper for fetanyl 1,600 micrograms on the dresser and an empty fetanyl 1,600 microgram stick in his bedroom.
A rolled up dollar bill was found in the dresser in the bedroom, the report notes.
The report says that one of Tata's two male roommates told police he had been with Tata the afternoon of July 4 and that an unidentified woman had spent the night with Tata.
One of the roommates told police that he had knocked on Tata's bedroom door sometime prior to 3:30 p.m. on July 4 to get the woman to move her car from the driveway so that he could leave for work.
The other roommate told police that he and Tata had made something to eat, then went to Winchell's Pub & Grill at 10620 S. Eastern Ave. in Henderson and that Tata was drinking vodka.
From there they went to a party of a friend of Tata's from the Four Seasons and stayed until approximately 11 p.m. The roommate told police that Tata "had consumed a large amount of vodka during the day."
He said that after they got home Tata went swimming, did laundry and went to bed about midnight.
On the morning of July 6, after not seeing or hearing from Tata since late July 4, one of the roommates went into his room and found him dead.
That roommate "was extremely upset. He advised that Tata had been his best friend his whole life. He advised that he looked in Tata's bedroom on Monday (July 5) and thought that Tata was passed out," according to the police report.
The roommate told police "he didn't know where the fentanyl came from and was reluctant to talk about drug use."
Fentanyl is a respiratory depressant and it is more potent than Oxycontin, Paige said, a drug that has garnered much attention in recent years because it is sometimes used as a recreational street drug. Paige said he has never heard of fentanyl being abused.
Fentanyl can be lethal when combined with alcohol, Paige said. Those taking fentanyl may feel euphoric and drowsy.
A statement issued by Station Casinos on Monday said Tata "was a young man of tremendous promise and great potential and we continue to be saddened by his death."
However, Station Casinos "maintains a strict policy to abstain from public comment regarding any of its employees' private lives even in public matters," according to the statement. "We hope to provide a degree of dignity and privacy for Michael's family."
Tata started as director of hotel operations at the hotel in June 2001 and had been vice president of hotel operations since January.