Alcohol-Induced Osteopenia Among In-Custody and Homicide Deaths from the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences*

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Abstract

Four cases of in-custody or unlawful death are presented as examples of increased bone fragility with an associated increase in fracture rates due to ethanol-induced osteopenia. In addition, one of the individuals suffered fractures several weeks premortem, allowing some healing to take place. Using radiographs and physical examination, the ribs from these individuals are compared with those retained from three individuals with no history of alcoholism to illustrate diagnostic characteristics that will be notable using standard autopsy and anthropological procedures. Trabecular bone mass is notably decreased in the alcoholic group leading to a greater chance of fracture occurring during conflict, including arrest and in-custody situations. The average number of perimortem fractures among the alcoholic individuals is 15, while the control group is six. In the case of the individual with healing, the degree of bone repair on the ribs was less than is expected considering the interval between injury and death.

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