aprilhenry (aprilhenry) wrote,

What I learned from the state medical examiner

Yesterday, I got a chance to hear the state medical examiner, Karen Gunson, MD. She is one of only 350 forensic pathologist in the United States.

Drug deaths: #1 killer is methadone. It is being used more as a pain-killer. People are used to faster-acting drugs, like Vicodin, so they take more and more, not realizing it is slowly building up to a toxic level. Heroin causes a lot of deaths. Here in Oregon, it's tar heroin, which looks black and sticky, like a Tootsie-roll, which means it can't be cut with powder. The potency drops off as it gets older. It's harvested twice a year, so a user may use what was the right amount for an older version, but it's far too strong because it's newly harvested. A lot of users don't realize they lose their tolerance in just two or three days, so they get discharged from prison and try to party using the same amount of drugs they've always used. Result: death.

Suicides: Only 25% leave notes, but they will often put their car keys, wallet and personal papers in one spot. For a long time, they would find bodies with a copy of Final Exit nearby. [Note to self: good way to stage a murder?]

CSI: Baffles her. Why is it always dark? Why do the women wear low-cut dresses and sky-high heels? She was particularly amazed by an episode where they poured something like wax into a wound to figure out the shape of the blade. Not only was it ridiculous, but potential jurors who watch it may think they are "learning" something.

DNA: Getting results takes six months to two years. Oregon's tests are done at the University of North Texas. People always want to do DNA, and Karen says, "Hm, why don't we just try looking at the license in their wallet and seeing if the photo matches the face. Or try fingerprints or dental records." She currently has two legs in storage that came from different rivers, but she believes they are a matched set. They have been waiting on DNA for nine months.

Misc: "An autopsy is like a present - you always find something when you open someone up."

"The thing about decomp is that after a while, you stop smelling it. The best thing to do is to just stand right over the body and take a few deep breaths."

"If you're dead at home, your dog is not your friend. Dachshunds are the worst."

Someone asked if she found her job depressing or had trouble coping, and she said that actually all the medical examiners were a happy bunch.

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