Academic Forensic Pathology

The Official Publication of the National Association of Medical Examiners

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Title: Drug Intoxication and the Need to Autopsy: A Diagnosis of Exclusion?
Author(s): Fowler David
Citation: Acad Forensic Pathol. 2017 Mar; 7(1):2-6.
Type: Invited Review
Keywords: Forensic pathology, Exclusion, Resources, Autopsy
Abstract: The recent surge in drug deaths has focused attention on the diagnosis of drug intoxication as a cause of death. In Maryland, the Department of Vital Records has shown an increase from 649 intoxication deaths in 2012 to 1259 in 2015. Preliminary data for 2016 document 1892 of these deaths. Many of the medicolegal death investigation offices in the United States are facing potential loss of accreditation. There is limited capacity to add more staff due to a lack of appropriately trained pathologists and budget constraints. The diagnosis of this intoxication and the need to autopsy all of these cases is a matter of debate, as many death investigation offices look for alternative means to maintain accreditation. The alternative to adding more staff is to reduce the autopsy caseload. Can this be done without compromising the intent of the medical examiner system and the law? Balancing this with being fiscally responsible may be a very real challenge and one that will test many death investigation systems due to this pandemic of drug deaths. If there is a need to reduce the autopsy caseload, it should be in cases other than where the diagnosis is one of exclusion.
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