proper investigation procedures
November 27, 2007 7:41 PM   Subscribe

in a police investigation concerning the possible overdose of an individual, is it odd that all of the medication containers would be left behind? would toxicology be exact enough that they wouldn't be needed?

they're in the process of doing toxicology right now. several scenarios regarding the death are possible, it's also possible that presumptions were made by investigators. i want to be sure the investigation is being done properly.

it's possible that it was accidental overdose, suicide or failure to thrive. though toxicology will rule out the third if that isn't the case. i want to be certain of the first two, that's why i'm concerned about no evidence being taken out of the apartment.

background: she had mild mental retardation, with only six hours a week of staff supervision. also, our mother passed away two months ago, who meant absolutely everything to her. she lived in an apartment building full of people with varying degrees of mental illness, developmental disabilities, etc. so it's entirely possible that someone, with good intention, gave her a medication that they felt worked for them in trying times. also, due to her depression and never really being good at cleanliness, her apartment was horrendous (rotten food, cat poo, pop cans, etc. littered the floor). i'm concerned that with the state of the apartment and the reputation of the building in the community, that an investigator made a conclusion without all the facts.

i just find it odd, that in the case of a possible accidental overdose/suicide, every full/empty pill container was left scattered around the apartment. everyone assumes suicide, but i want to be extremely careful that everyone's assumptions aren't ruling the day.

if i wasn't clear enough with details i'll be checking back and will fill in any questions if that's the case.

also (sorry), who would i speak to if i had a concern with something like this? watching the wire has gotten me a bit skeptical i guess. thanks.
posted by andywolf to Law & Government (11 answers total)
I think toxicology is a pretty precise science. I think it would certainly be definitive enough that speculations about what someone was taking, based on left-behind pill containers, would be unnecessary.
posted by jayder at 7:46 PM on November 27, 2007

From your description, it sounds like this was your sister. I'm sorry for your loss.

You should express your concerns directly to the investigators working the case. With a drug overdose, sometimes it's difficult to tell whether it was intentional (suicide) or accidental. Unfortunately, you may not get a definitive answer. But your background information on your sister's state of mind, etc., can help the investigators come to a more informed conclusion.
posted by amyms at 7:49 PM on November 27, 2007

Response by poster: thanks, i recently read this new yorker piece on forensic science and wasn't sure about toxicology. i suppose i could google around a bit, but i don't have the attention span with everything over the last few months.
posted by andywolf at 7:51 PM on November 27, 2007

Quite frankly, it's not clear what could be learned from pill bottles. If they were prescription bottles, then the labels would tell you that those bottles at one time contained some particular drug in some particular quantity, but not necessarily what they contained at the time of the unfortunate event.

Nor could they be tested for presence of particular drugs -- it's the same problem of timeliness. Perhaps trace amounts of some drug, perhaps other than the one on the label, might be found in the bottle, but when was it there? There's no way to know.

That's why they rely on autopsy results which, as Jayder says, are quite good these days.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:58 PM on November 27, 2007

Why would you leave evidence? No matter how exact toxicology is, you would still have the bottles to get an idea of what was going on.

I'd let the medical examiner's office know.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:37 PM on November 27, 2007

Response by poster: oh, with the unknown nature of death and possibility of an unprescribed medication it seems lazy to leave something that could point to where it came from. i.e. someone in the building passing out dangerous meds. and if they don't take any record of what medications she takes, how can they know if it was even something prescribed. i worked on an ambulance for awhile and with any situation regarding medication, in anyway, we always grabbed every bottle we saw. prescription meds would show date filled and number in the container. Mon - Fri containers could show if someone systematically went down the line emptying every one, or if days/times got mixed up. someone in a confused depressive state could get something mixed up as to when they took a particular set of meds. if you had the breakfast/lunch/dinner/bedtime med containers before you would further inform the circumstances. if you get a toxicology saying a shit load of random drugs were taken it's easy to assume suicide. but it could just as well be someone getting days or times mixed up. two corresponding days of night time meds, for example, would look more like error. whereas randomly emptying several days or bottles would indicate intention. that datum would further inform a toxicology report. inserting one of those two pieces paints a clearer picture of events. if you know how much is being taken at what time of which medication would make toxicology much clearer. what would look like random amounts of dosages could be seen as dinner and night time meds taken close together. or two sets of morning meds close together, etc. relying on only one set of physical evidence, toxicology, seems lackadaisical. am i being logical in that?
posted by andywolf at 9:06 PM on November 27, 2007

My brother died of an oxycodone overdose. No drugs were recovered from his apartment, I guess because he'd taken everything he had. The coroner was indeed able to determine what killed him.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:07 PM on November 27, 2007

I'm not clear why you think photographing and writing down the bottles info, wouldn't be sufficient. It doesn't sound like a criminal investigation, just a medical one, so they only need information, not isolated evidence to preserve for a court case.
posted by nomisxid at 8:30 AM on November 28, 2007

Well, if someone did administer a drug to this person then thats reckless endangerment or perhaps manslaughter. Not to mention a violation of various laws regulating the dispersement of controlled medicines.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:39 AM on November 28, 2007


This must be a tough time for you, losing your mother and sister (I think) so quickly together. Remember to take care of yourself!
posted by frosty_hut at 1:46 PM on November 28, 2007

Response by poster: nomisxid, i think i describe a reasonable scenario where actually being able to physically account for what is where could further inform whether it was an accident or intentional. it's one thing if it's a great deal of one drug, but another if it's a mix of several. yes it was my sister, certainly hasn't been much fun, thanks for the thought. oh, in cleaning the apartment today i found other peoples medication containers. sure it isn't a criminal investigation, but telling me an investigation is underway, implies they're trying to piece together the sequence of events, or if it was an accident or not. kind of hard to do that when you don't do a goddamn thing to look for where the pills come from. i was just hoping asking this would find someone who may actually handle this sort of thing and whether or not it was being done correctly. relying on one piece of information sounds odd to me when no one knows what happened, it reeks of presumption. she didn't live in a big city where investigators are pressed for time. i apologize if i'm working this out on askme, but some of the responses on here are making me examine this in a way i wouldn't be able to otherwise. it's a confusing situation.
posted by andywolf at 2:34 PM on November 28, 2007

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