Heroin Overdoses Listed as Homicides in Pennsylvania County


What Does this Controversial Practice Mean for Lycoming County?

by Kaytee Moyer

In one county in Pennsylvania, death is listed as a homicide if one overdoses on heroin.

Coroner Charles E. Kiessling, from Lycoming County, Pennsylvania has taken an aggressive stance on an issue that has plagued Pennsylvania for several years.

No longer will the coroner list those who have passed from an overdose as having an “accidental” death. Kiessling felt that heroin overdoses do not belong in the same category as those who have had an accidental fall or been in a traffic accident.

“If you are dealing drugs, you are a murderer,” he said to PennLive.

The article went on:

He plans to put out something statewide letting others know he is listing heroin overdose deaths homicides.

‘Some will agree (with his stance) and some will not,’ Kiessling predicts. ‘I just think it is the right thing to do.’

The exception to listing homicide as the manner of death would be in cases where prescription drugs also were a factor, he explained.

Doctors have a license to prescribe drugs, he said. “Drug dealers aren’t licensed to do anything,” he said.

There has been substantial push back against this decision since it was reported on March 23.

Many professionals weighed in on the decision, including in a report in the Washington Times:

The approach probably doesn’t do any harm, said Randy Hanzlick, chief medical examiner of Fulton County, Ga. But it does go ‘against the majority opinion of how people are dealing with it these days.’

‘To me, that’s more of a legal interpretation or classification than it is a medical one,’ Hanzlick told The Post.

Hanzlick is among the authors of the 2002 National Association of Medical Examiners guide, which lays out recommendations for death classifications. Those guidelines indicate that deaths due to drugs have traditionally been classified as accidents, which was mostly what Kiessling was using previously.

“I’ve never heard of it before,” said Jeffrey Jentzen, director of autopsy and forensic services at the University of Michigan, when asked about Kiessling’s decision. “I think it’s very unusual.”

Gregory J. Davis, professor at the University of Kentucky and another author of the National Association of Medical Examiners guidelines, expressed concern over the decision, saying: “This strikes me as more political than scientific, or a real attempt at death investigation. This is at best misguided, at worst, an attempt to get a headline.”

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