Autopsies find 7, 741 with drugs in system

Published June 12, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - More than 7, 700 people who died in Florida in 2006 had drugs or alcohol in their system - with alcohol, cocaine and tranquilizers the most common - a report released Monday by state medical examiners found.

The 7, 741 cases in which drugs were found in the systems of people who were autopsied was a slight increase from 2005, when drugs were found in the bodies of 7, 573 people.

The number represents all deaths in which there was an autopsy and in which drugs were found in the deceased's system.

Alcohol was the most common substance found, present in 3, 698 bodies. Next to that was cocaine, found in 2, 052 bodies and tranquilizers, such as Xanax or Valium, found in 1, 987 people who died.

Heroin was the drug that was found most often to have actually caused the person's death. The drug was blamed for killing the person in 81 percent of cases in which heroin was found in the dead person's body, the report said.

But the study also found that heroin use appears to be on a continued decline, based on the frequency with which it is found in the bodies of those who die. The number of times heroin was present in an autopsied body was down 21.3 percent last year over 2005, and the number of deaths caused by heroin dropped by 28.4 percent.

The annual Report on Drugs Identified in Deceased Persons is compiled by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission and released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Most of the 170, 000 or so deaths in Florida in 2006 did not require autopsies, which are ordered when the cause of death needs to be determined or a death is the result of a crime.

The records include cases where the drug was the cause of death, and cases where someone died from another cause, such as an accident, but drugs were in their system when they died.