Anatomic Pathology: Forensic Pathology

1146) The abdominal radiograph shown was obtained from a person who was found dead in a motel room near JFK airport, New York. What is the MOST likely cause of death?

• This is a case of a drug packer (“mule”), which refers to a person who swallows numerous small plastic containers, latex balloons, or condoms that are filled with cocaine or heroin. A gross disease specimen of the opened stomach with contents from autopsy would show containers with the drug.

• This person swallowed the containers with the drug in Colombia and flew to New York City. Once couriers clear customs, they typically unload their cargo at a nearby motel. If a balloon breaks, the courier may die from an acute intoxication (an overdose).

• The balloons also can cause death by intestinal obstruction or perforation.

Gill JR, Graham SM: Ten years of “body packers” in New York City: 50 deaths. J Forensic Sci 2002;47(4):843-846.

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