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A Dose of Reality: Drug Death Investigations and the Criminal Justice System

By Amy Hawes, M.D. and Denise Martin, D-ABMDI, JD

In the midst of the tragic nationwide epidemic of drug overdose deaths, there is now also an increased push for prosecutions in drug-related deaths. This drug overdose epidemic has become a crisis for medical examiner and coroner offices, law enforcement, courts, and public health agencies. While exact numbers of such prosecutions are not available, reports of proliferating laws and prosecutions using various homicide, manslaughter, and depraved heart statutes for persons providing drugs are substantially increasing in many states.1 

Medical examiners and coroners (“ME/C”) play a vital and fundamental role in providing credible opinions about death certification to families, courts, and the criminal justice system. Medical examiner and coroner systems operate at the interface of medicine and the legal system, and investigation of most potential drug-related deaths fall under ME/C jurisdiction. With the significant paradigm shift of investigating and prosecuting drug-related deaths as cr

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