Medical Examiners Miss Homicides Caused by Deliberate Drug Misuse


A Baltimore woman was charged with homicide for injecting a friend with heroin before she died. The Baltimore Sun says the death was not unlike hundreds of others each year in Maryland from drug overdoses, but it is the only one in recent memory to be ruled a homicide. Because authorities rarely find witnesses, the medical examiner frequently labels such deaths “undetermined,” a distinction that has led to debate over whether homicides are being counted accurately.

Israel Cason, who runs a drug treatment center, says there are instances where drugs are used deliberately to kill someone. It’s called a “hot shot” — replacing heroin with battery acid, or placing anti-freeze in a bottle of methadone. The motives, said the former addict, range from child support and other debts to relationship troubles or revenge. He said the medical examiners and police don’t know what to look for. “You really don’t know what you’re looking at unless you lived that life,” Cason said. “If you don’t live in that lifestyle, you can’t imagine it.” Marvin Sydnor, a retired Baltimore homicide detective, said, “I can understand how they’d make [a homicide] ruling, because, one person caused the death of another. I think it probably happens a lot, but our problem is we would find an overdose” and not know anything else about the death.

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