Volume 41, Issue 1 (January 1996)
Observations on Drug Abuse Deaths in the State of Maryland
The problem of drug abuse in America encompasses all ages, economic, and ethnic groups. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) has recorded a continuous increase in drug abuse deaths in Maryland over the past seven years. This report focuses on the epidemiological characteristics and pathological findings of victims of fatal drug abuse in Maryland investigated by the OCME in 1992 and 1993.
A retrospective study of OCME cases in 1992 and 1993 yielded a total of 605 deaths caused by drugs of abuse. 426 deaths were the result of narcotic drug use, 66 deaths due to cocaine, 102 deaths involved both narcotics and cocaine, 6 deaths were due to phencyclidine (PCP) and 5 involved both PCP and narcotic drugs. Drug abuse deaths most often involved individuals who were male (86%) and black (64%). Their ages ranged from 15 to 68 years with the majority (58%) of victims being in their 30's. Of the 605 drug deaths, 393 (65%) had a known history of drug abuse. 279 (46%) exhibited needle tracks, of which only 94 (16%) had identifiable fresh needle puncture marks. Drug paraphernalia (needles, syringes, etc.) was found at the scene in 22% of the cases. Twenty-nine (4.8%) cases showed complications of drug abuse which included pneumonia, endocarditis or myocarditis, pulmonary embolism, AIDS and intracerebral hemorrhage, 87 (14.4%) were positive for HIV antibodies, an incidence much higher than that identified in our general autopsy population (2.6%).
Drugs of abuse were also found in a significant portion of the homicides examined at this office in 1992 and 1993. 323 of the 1265 homicide victims (25%) showed evidence of some form of illicit drug activity.