Addict dead of "natural causes" at age 38?

Seems like there are lots of cases where the coroner declares a 30-something year-old or a 20-something year-old who is apparently a hardcore drug user and/or otherwise seriously abuses his/her body had died “of natural causes.” What the hell is that about? I can understand wanting to protect the family from further pain and media attention and perhaps even increase their chances of recovering compensation from their insurance company. But doesn’t a coroner have a legal obligation to perform a conscientious investigation and announce an honest, professional, truthful opinion?

The latest case involves Corey Haim. I never heard of him till he died, but apparently he was a Canadian kid who got his big break in a few movies, got relatively rich and famous (for a kid), and then started seriously abusing all sorts of drugs, became totally obese, then thin again, then fat again, addicted, then rehabbed, then . . . he died “of natural causes” at age 38 with a slew of overprescribed drugs in his system and in his house.

[quote]Coroner: Corey Haim died of natural causes

Pneumonia, not drug abuse, killed actor Corey Haim, the Los Angeles County Coroner ruled in an autopsy report released Tuesday.

Although the investigation into Haim’s death began as a “suspected prescription medication overdose,” toxicology tests “revealed no significant contributing factors” from drugs, the coroner reported.

The autopsy found “an extremely large amount” of swelling in Haim’s lungs, it said.

The ruling that his death was not related to his well-publicized drug addiction confirmed what his mother and manager have insisted for weeks: that Haim, 38, did not overdose.

Haim died March 10 after collapsing at the Los Angeles apartment he shared with his mother.

Although the 1980s teen actor battled drug addiction for decades, his death came when Haim “was making major progress” with a program to wean him from pills, said his manager, Mark Heaslip.

Toxicology tests showed that Haim’s blood did have “low levels” of a list of drugs, including an antidepressant (Prozac), an antipsychotic (Olanzapine), diazepam (Valium), a muscle relaxer (Carisoprodol), a tranquilizer (meprobamate) and THC (a chemical in marijuana).

Haim also was taking a cough suppressant, antihistamine and ibuprofen.

“These medications are present in low levels and are non-contributory to death,” the autopsy report said.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown has used Haim’s death to publicize his enforcement efforts against illegal prescription drug use. At a news conference last month, Brown called Haim “the poster child” for the problem of addicts “doctor shopping” for dangerous drugs.

State investigators found that the former child actor obtained four dangerous drugs – including Vicodin, Valium, Soma and Xanax – just five days before he died, Brown said.

Brown launched an inquiry of what he said was Haim’s “doctor shopping” for drugs. Seven doctors gave him prescriptions for four controlled substances in the last 10 weeks of his life, Brown said.

Haim sometimes threatened to find other doctors to prescribe him drugs when his primary physician wouldn’t give him what he wanted, his manager said. . . .[/quote] … google_cnn

I don’t care about Corey Haim in particular. As I said, I only heard of him after he died.

I just wonder why coroners keep concluding in these types of cases that death was due to “natural causes” (recall, also, Paris Hilton’s young drug addict friend who died “of natural causes” a few months ago). It doesn’t seem natural for a 38 year-old to die of pneumonia. It seems even less natural when there’s clear evidence he was taking a shitload of drugs for a long time, including right up to the time of death.

Aren’t the coroner’s lying? Shouldn’t they be sworn to perform a professional job and state the truth?

Pneumonia is a natural cause of death. And yes, thirty something year old people die of it all the time, and certainly not just drug addicts.

As a lawyer I’m sure you can work through the technicalities here, but in brief, if the drugs were the direct cause of death, then whoever prescribed them could be liable. They may have contributed to his death by weakening his immunity and leaving him susceptible to infectious diseases like pneumonia, but that’s a very hard case to prove. If you could prove that, imagine the joy in suing cigarette manufacturers!


Well, sure, maybe it’s natural for starving children in Africa with no access to good nutrition or medical care, but a fairly wealthy 38 year-old American dying from pneumonia? It doesn’t sound natural to me.

I recognize the potential legal implications. It’s my understanding Michael Jackson’s doc is presently the subject of criminal proceedings.

And Corey Haim’s case or Casey Johnson’s or Anna Nicole Smith’s case don’t seem all that different. Didn’t they all get a shitload of drugs from numerous doctors, which they took for years, then they all died at very young ages of “natural causes”?

I’m not complaining that the coroner isn’t assisting the prosecutors to file charges against and go after the dealers (er. . .doctors) who sold them the drugs that ultimately led to their deaths; I’d just like to see a little more integrity in the professional reports. At least can’t they just say “pneumonia/diabetes/heart failure/etc., apparently caused by weakened immune system due to apparent long-term overuse of prescription drugs, including in the days immediately leading up to the death”? Wouldn’t that be more accurate?

Or maybe that’s what the coroner’s report does say. Maybe the problem is in the news reporting: “Coroner says so and so died of natural causes” when that’s not exactly what the coroner said.

Might as well say a guy who blew his head off with a shotgun died of natural causes, because it wasn’t the gun that killed him, it was the blood loss and it’s perfectly natural for a person who loses an enormous volume of blood to die.

[quote=“Mother Theresa”]Well, sure, maybe it’s natural for starving children in Africa with no access to good nutrition or medical care, but a fairly wealthy 38 year-old American dying from pneumonia? It doesn’t sound natural to me.

it does happen, all the time, just not to newsworthy people. Pneumonia can be contracted by people in their prime very readily (say, after a near drowning, or a serious bronchitis, or atelectasis, or a small blood clot in the lung).

Lost Boys was a hit film and sort of a cult movie for many, so there’s interest there. He was buying too many drugs to treat it himself, and he really should have gone to hospital to have it properly treated instead. Sure, he had a habit of self-medicating so maybe it was his past addictions that contributed to his death, but he still died of pneumonia…

I don’t see similarities to Michael Jackson here. Maybe to Elvis.

Mate, loads of young and otherwise healthy people die from “natural” causes like infectious diseases every day, including wealthy Americans, and despite the best treatment in the world. In the case of the chap you mention, his drug use is no doubt a contributing factor, but not the cause. he died from pneumonia, because that’s precisely what killed him.

In the case of Jackson, the suspicion is that he died as a direct overdose of a drug, which was wrongfully applied. He was given an anaesthetic agent, not a sleeping pill. And contrary to the indications for prescribing such medicine there was no anaesthetic equipment around, or an anaethetist.

Earlier this year I was hospitalised with a liver abscess, which has a mortality rate of around 30%. I was lucky, I responded well to the antibiotics, but not all people do, obviously, and not for want of good treatment. Just the way it goes. Work in a hospital for any time and you’ll soon see just how fickle that damned finger of fate can be.


But isn’t it misleading to call it natural causes if it never would’ve happened, the addict never would’ve experienced pneumonia or heart failure or whatever if he hadn’t been taking a shitload of drugs and he/she would likely have survived the event if his/her body hadn’t been ravaged by years of such abuse, including in the days and weeks leading up to the event?

Sure, the ultimate precise cause of death may be pneumonia or heart failure (depending on the particular case), but if the person suffered that event due to serious drug abuse and was unable to recover from it due to serious drug abuse, it seems misleading to call it natural. The overuse of drugs are ultimately what caused the death.

When a drunk driver is killed the headlines read “Drunk Driver Killed”. They don’t coyly state “Person Killed in Automotive Mishap.” Sure the precise cause of death is him plowing his car into a telephone pole, crashing through the window and flying out onto the road, where he split his skull open on the pavement, causing his brains to spill out and a large volume of blood to be lost." But it would be erroneous not to state that his death was caused by drunk driving, if he happened to be totally shitfaced and the time and that’s why he crashed.

Likewise, if a 400 pound teenager dies of a heart attack, I wouldn’t call it natural causes. I would call it death due to obesity-related conditions, death due to overeating, death due to to a crappy diet and sedentary lifestyle, etc. Natural makes it sound like the victim didn’t bring it on himself and there was nothing he could’ve done to prevent it, which seems to be clearly false in many such cases.

Like I said, I’m just calling for a little integrity in the reporting.

that’s not how a coroner’s report works. if someone dies by execution by firing squad, the cause of death is “gunshot wounds to the head”, not ‘execution’.

some smart aleck coroner might write ‘acute lead overdose’.

Here’s a potential money maker for you, MT. Prove that the drugs killed him. You’re a lawyer. Go for it. :laughing:


Come now, Mother Theresa, you sound educated, you should know better. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

[quote=“Huang Guang Chen”]Here’s a potential money maker for you, MT. Prove that the drugs killed him. You’re a lawyer. Go for it. :laughing:


As with all legal actions, it all depends on the particular facts, and I don’t know the facts in Haim’s case. I’d need to review the autopsy report, investigate the drugs in his system, the drugs he used in the preceding days, weeks, months and years, etc. Causation can be hard to prove, but it seems like more than mere coincidence when hard-core drug users die of heart failure or pneumonia at a very young age and it doesn’t seem natural to me.

In Michael Jackson’s case the DA did investigate and decided facts are sufficient to prove death by drugs.

Juries have reached the same conclusion in many other cases (even against big tobacco, which you mentioned above).

[quote]Ocala woman wins millions in tobacco verdict

April 22, 2010|By Anika Myers Palm, Orlando Sentinel

An Ocala woman who wanted tobacco companies to bear some of the responsibility for her husband’s death from lung cancer was awarded $90 million on Wednesday by an Alachua County jury.

The jury said R.J. Reynolds Tobacco should pay $80 million in punitive damages and $10.8 million in compensatory damages to Lyantie Townsend for the 1995 death of her husband, Frank, from lung cancer.

“We’re here to hold them accountable for their part” in his death, said Orlando attorney Keith Mitnik, who represented Townsend[/quote] … ung-cancer

Was Jimi Hendrix’s death by “natural causes” – just pure and simple asyphxiation, nothing more?

Same for Joplin, Garcia, Morrison, Monroe, Belushi, Lenny Bruce, Chris Farley, Keith Moon, etc.? All dead from “natural causes”?

The issue you raised is where a man died of pneumonia. The coroner said pneumonia killed him, cos that’s what he died of. Simple. I really don’t need to know what drugs he was on or his history, because I know an infectious process, namely pneumonia, killed him, and that process occurs and kills regardless of other factors. When that process kills a person, they are said to die of natural causes. That’s just how it works. In your non-medically trained mind, you link other seemingly obvious factors, but that’s not the way a medical mind works.

Contributing factors are an altogether other issue.

Yes, as I mentioned. Because it was the drugs that killed him outright. They were not a contributing factor, but what actually killed him. He stopped breathing because that’s what the anaethetising agents are designed to do. They were incorrectly applied and Jackson inadequately monitored.

Some, not all. A landmark case. But I bet you a penny to a tonne of gold that his death certificate describes the man dying of lung cancer, not smoking.

As for Hendrix, you can read his death certificate here. Inhalation of vomit. Barbiturate intoxication. Insufficient evidence of circumstances. So yeah, in effect, since there is insufficient evidence on the barbs, he choked on his spew. That’s the event that killed him.


Mother Theresa:

You keep saying “…I feel…” “…It seems to me…”. etc. This is called arguing from personal incredulity. It is a fallacy. Human intuition is a very, very poor discriminator of coincidence, correlation and causality. Nobody is an exception, no matter how “forcefully” our enteric nervous system would like to convince use otherwise.

JamesE, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Even if I knew what arguing from personal incredulity meant, I’m sure I would not be doing it. I simply find it odd that someone would call it “natural causes” when a young person dies after having poisoned himself with massive quantities of toxic substances that eventually caused his heart to fail or his lungs to fill with liquid or other such events that led to his death.

Perhaps the problem stems from ambiguity over the meaning of cause. Every first-year law student has spent numerous hours in torts class studying and discussing actual causation, proximate causation and the various other standards and tests of causation.

For example, in the landmark Palsgraf case, a man pushed someone else, who dropped a package. The package contained fireworks that exploded and causd a scale to fall harming the plaintiff, who sued the first man. The court found no liability, because the man pushing the second man was not the proximate cause of the injury, because the court ruled it was not foreseable that his act would lead to that result.

In another famous case, a dock worker dropped a plank into the hold of a ship, causing a spark, which ignited gasoline vapor, causing a fire. A suit was filed alleging that the damages were caused by his negligence and the court elaborated on the doctrine of causation.

In another case, the defendant parked his car in the middle of the road and left it with the lights off. Plaintiff was a passenger in a car that crashed into the parked car. The driver of the plaintiff’s car was found to be driving poorly, but the court discussed whether his damages were caused by negligence of the first driver.

Causation is NOT always a clear, objectively verifiable fact; it is often subjective and up to different interpretations.

But I would have little trouble concluding that if some 30 year-old junkie kicks the bucket from heart failure, the drugs were the cause of his death, not merely cardiac arythmia, or whatever the coroner might want to call it. If I were the judge, I would likely find excessive drug use to be the proximate cause of the death and if I were the coroner or the news reporter I’d do the same. The link is much stronger and more foreseeable than any of the cases described above. It is clear, certain and foreseeable. Consequently, I wouldn’t call it “natural causes” when a guy poisons himself to death.

But I would have little trouble concluding that if some 30 year-old junkie kicks the bucket from heart failure…

This is the problem, you can conclude nothing from those facts. There is a very reasonable chance the 30 year old’s heart attack was brought on by something else, or just bad luck.

Sorry, MT, but the whole purpose of an autopsy is to cut to the chase and rule out speculation. A coroner’s task is to find exactly what caused a death.

By the way, you do understand the rationale for the split between natural and unatural causes here, right? Essentially natural causes relate to a disease process and unnatural means that there was some form of intervention, and therefore, possible culpability. Your initial example is natural causes however you want to look at it. That’s natural cause of death, nothing to do with not preventable.


Yea, whatever. Heavy druggie dies in a pool of vomit at age 30, body full of drugs, house full of drugs, long-time history of heavy drug use, long time history of failed rehab attempts, internal organs seriously screwed up consistent with what one would expect to see in a long-time hardcore user of the substance that he overused, and you tell me his death likely wasn’t caused by drugs? Okaaaaaay. . .

I understand that. Ultimately the cause of death may be that his heart stopped beating, so blood failed to circulate and his brain became starved of oxygen and died (or whatever). And I understand that it’s “natural” for a person to die if his heart stops beating for a certain period of time. But if it’s 99% likely that the heart stopped beating due to excessive drug consumption, then it’s not natural, is it? The heart stoppage was caused by human intervention – by the victim polluting his body to the point that it eventually failed.

Exactly. If the natural cause in these cases – the disease process – is caused by unnatural means, the kid taking shitloads of drugs until his body couldn’t cope any longer, then there’s your intervention. The natural disease is caused by unnatural acts, hence it’s extremely misleading to state that the death was due to natural causes. If he hadn’t of been a junkie, he wouldn’t have gotten pneumonia/heart failure and died.

Is that long list of rock stars and others who purportedly died from drug abuse merely a coincidence? Perhaps they all just had bad luck?

Freddy Newandyke: “Motherfucker, Im trying to watch The Lost Boys!”

[quote]If he hadn’t of been a junkie, he wouldn’t have gotten pneumonia/heart failure and died.
You assume. The coroner isn’t allowed to.

That’s the nub right there.

Put yourself in a coroner’s position. This would quite reasonably be “normal” in quite a lot of places.