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A “Back Door” Approach to Analysis of Ethanol-Associated Risks and Behavior

Hanzlick Randy M.D.; Hawkins, Charles M.D.; Hammami, Amir M.D.
The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: December 1988
Medicolegal Challenges: PDF Only

Ethanol has been detected in the majority of medical examiner cases involving nonnatural death and in a substantial number of natural deaths. The higher the serum alcohol concentration (SAC), the greater were the odds that death was due to external (traumatic) causes. We identified 149 medical examiner cases that were positive for ethanol and negative for 11 major drug of abuse groups, and studied those cases to further clarify ethanol-related risk factors and behaviors. Based on terms of frequency of occurrence, the data identify SACs of 201 mg% to 300 mg% as a particularly high risk factor for sudden, unexpected, traumatic death. Traumatic deaths associated with SACs below 100 mg% were infrequent, and attendant opinions concerning the contributory role of ethanol must be made with circumspection. SACs below 150 mg% could not be used to predict whether or not the decedents had been engaged in active or sedentary behavior prior to death because both situations occurred with equal frequency. At SACs between 151 mg% and 350 mg%, active situations were observed three times as often as sedentary situations. When SACs were 350 mg%, sedentary situations were observed twice as often as active situations. Suicide victims and driver fatalities rarely showed SACs above 350 mg%; therefore finding such SACs in apparent suicidal or driver fatality situations should prompt a thorough investigation to rule out other possibilities. Recognizing that a dogmatic approach to alcohol-related dysfunction at any SAC must be avoided, we present data that may be used to strengthen or modify the viewpoint of those who are called to render medicolegal opinions concerning alcohol as it pertains to homicide, suicide, fatal accidents, traffic fatalities, natural death, and various behaviors

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