The Overdose/Homicide Epidemic
35 Pages Posted: 22 May 2018 Last revised: 2 Apr 2019
Date Written: May 10, 2018
With the rising rates of opioid overdose deaths nationally, political players in rural counties — coroners and district attorneys — are increasingly responding with hard-on-crime reactionary behavior. These prosecutors are bringing drug-induced homicide charges — that a death was not only an overdose but also a homicide — and placing the blame on the distributor of the drug. In the vast majority of these prosecutions, the distributor is simply a friend or acquaintance who shared the drug with the deceased. Coroners, appointed to investigate suspicious deaths, are now also increasingly determining these unexplained accidental deaths to be homicides.
The joint effort of county coroners and county prosecutors to bring homicide charges that are unlikely to suffice legally, yet make a point politically about the opioid epidemic, highlight the lack of regulation and lack of impartiality in death investigations, and imply the goal of a death investigation is a criminal charge. When death certificates are unreliable but used for prosecutorial purposes, our history of court reliance on faulty forensic evidence continues its dishonest trajectory of mass incarceration. This use furthermore belies the intended purpose of a medicolegal death investigation according to the National Association of Medical Examiners: public health.
This Article explores the lack of regulation of coroners, concerns within the forensic science community on the reliability of coroner determinations, and ultimately, how elected laypeople serving as coroners may influence the rise in drug-induced homicide prosecutions in the midst of the opioid epidemic.
Keywords: forensic science, evidence, criminal law, overdose, opioids, death investigation, coroner, medical examiner, forensics, mass incarceration, drug-induced homicide
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