Book Excerpt: Drug-Facilitated Crimes
Written by David J. George, PhD   

DRUGS CAN BE USED as tools for criminal activity such as sexual assault and robbery. In these crimes, victims are sedated or otherwise affected in ways that render them submissive or compliant with the actions of the perpetrators. The surreptitious administration of sublethal amounts of drugs as a form of punishment and the administration of abortifacients to expectant mothers without their knowledge or consent are also drug-facilitated crimes. Other examples are listed in Table 1. Most of the drug-facilitated crimes listed are reviewed in the following sections. Drug-facilitated sexual assault is reviewed separately in the following chapter.

Note: This article is an excerpt from Poisons: An Introduction for Forensic Investigators, a new book by David J. George, PhD. You can Click Here to learn more or to get information on purchasing this title.

Table 1 — Drug-Facilitated Crimes
Covert abortion
Drug-facilitated behavioral control
Covert abortion
Drug-facilitated interrogation
Drug-facilitated sexual assault
Drug-facilitated sporting advantage
Poisoning for commercial advantage
Sedation of children or elderly by caregivers
Sublethal poisoning for punishment, prank, or attention

Exposure Situations and Circumstances

1) Robbery

Numerous variations of robberies occur that are orchestrated around a victim’s expectation of sexual pleasures. This expectation places individuals in situations in which they can be drugged and robbed. Victims may be targets of opportunity or carefully selected based on research and surveillance. Perpetrators may act alone or function as part of a team composed of criminals with special skills applicable to different aspects of the robbery. The increased vulnerability of travelers due to their unfamiliar surroundings is an important risk factor for drug-facilitated robberies.

2) Sublethal Poisoning

Intentional poisoning for reasons other than homicide could include revenge, punishment, or pranks intended to embarrass or otherwise compromise victims. The objective might be to induce discomfort or illness. An example would be the surreptitious addition of a laxative to an individual’s food. Disciplining or punishing children by forcing them to ingest copious amounts of liquids or noxious substances such as spices or hot sauce is another example of sublethal poisoning.

3) Termination of Pregnancy

There are medically approved abortifacient drugs available for use in defined circumstances using a specified dosing schedule. The most common drug used for medical abortion is misoprostol, which is a prostaglandin that induces uterine contractions. Prostaglandins are normal constituents of the body and are involved in a wide variety of functions in different organ systems. For example, in addition to their involvement in uterine contractions, prostaglandins regulate gastric acid secretion and misoprostol is sometimes used therapeutically in non-pregnant individuals for the prevention of gastric ulcers. This use can provide a pretense for obtaining the drug without revealing the actual intended use for covert administration to induce an abortion.

4) Sedation by Caregivers

The practice of sedating individuals for convenience is viewed by authorities, and society in general, in various ways depending on what the sedating agent is, who administers it, what the objective is, and the consequences. When this occurs in nursing homes, daycare centers, and similar service settings, it is clearly a serious legal and health issue. Less clear-cut, from a medical and legal perspective, are situations involving parents administering sedatives to children in conjunction with activities such as long road trips or airline flights.

5) Sporting Advantage

Compared to the use of performance-enhancing drugs, drugging sporting opponents is exceedingly rare. Sedating substances, most often benzodiazepines, have been administered surreptitiously to individual opponents and opposing competitive teams in attempts to achieve a competitive advantage.

Inducing a meaningful performance decrement without visible signs of impairment requires precise dosing that would be difficult to accomplish in most competitive sporting environments.

6) Commercial Advantage

The opportunity for utilizing poisoning for commercial advantage would seem most obviously to involve food in some fashion. However, on a retail level, this almost never occurs. Most localized cases of poisoned or tainted food or beverage products involve a disgruntled employee seeking revenge on his or her employer rather than an act to dissuade patrons from using the outlet and becoming customers of a similar competitive business instead.

7) Interrogation

Using drugs to extract information from an individual is a common topic in the current climate of homeland security and terrorism. The drugs mentioned most often are thiopental, amobarbital, scopolamine, and ethanol. The efficacy of drug-facilitated interrogation is questionable at best; however, the practice of facilitating conversations with drugs and ethanol is rather common. It is well known that intoxicated individuals often reveal information that they might otherwise not reveal. This observation is likely exploited in some cases for criminal gains.

Investigative Considerations

Drug-facilitated crimes include many situations where victims are unaware of their exposure to drugs and, due to the amnesic properties of the drugs typically used for these crimes, are unable to recount their experiences. These factors generally delay the initiation of an investigation and also decrease the possibility of identifying the offending drugs in biological samples using conventional analytical methodology.

Case Studies

Case: Expensive Entertainment

In 2014, five adults in New York City were arrested and charged with grand larceny, conspiracy, assault, forgery, and tampering with evidence relating to their organized scheme for using the credit cards of wealthy male victims to obtain large amounts of money. The conspiracy charged in this indictment involved the theft of approximately $200,000 from four victims over a 3-month period. However, this activity was believed to have been occurring with other victims for quite some time.

Wealthy males living in New York were targets that were identified in upscale bars and restaurants and befriended by attractive women who drugged them. They were then taken to a gentlemen’s club where they were entertained in a private room while their credit cards were utilized by an experienced team to generate cash. One victim had lost more than $100,000 from charges made on four different occasions. Victims often had no memory of the experience, and those who complained were sent threatening messages that included incriminating photos. The group was headed by a 40-year-old female, who employed three younger entertainers and a club manager. The drugs utilized included ketamine, methylone, and cocaine.

Comments

The victims in this case included a hedge fund manager, a banker, a real estate lawyer, and a cardiologist. They learned of the extent of their credit card charges either by checking their monthly statements or by being contacted by their credit card companies.

Case: Nuts on the Bus

In 2001, an adult found unconscious on a public transportation bus was admitted to a hospital in a small town in the Aegean Region of Turkey. The town attracted tourists to view historic sites that were well-connected by railways and motorways. It was quickly determined that the hospitalized patient had been drugged and robbed. Three months later, a second patient was admitted who had similarly been drugged and robbed while traveling using the same public transportation system. Information obtained from these individuals enabled officials to monitor the area of the robberies and ultimately apprehend the perpetrator while in the act of robbing another individual.

The thief was a 50-year-old male with a criminal history that included prison time. Each of the victims had sat next to the perpetrator during a trip and had accepted some of the trail mix he offered them from a snack that he was apparently eating. Shortly thereafter, the victims lost consciousness, their valuables were taken, and the perpetrator left the bus unnoticed at the next convenient stop. The mixture consisted of hazelnuts and dried raisins. The hazelnuts had been cut in half, a cavity made to hold clonazepam and the halves were glued back together. When consumed, the taste of the drug in the hazelnuts was masked by the dried raisins.

Comments

This case is a striking example of the ingenuity of criminals. Clonazepam is a long-acting benzodiazepine best known by its brand name Klonopin. It is used in clinical medicine to treat various types of anxiety and seizure disorders, and as an adjunctive medication for other psychiatric conditions. Daily therapeutic doses are generally less than 10 mg. The approximate amount of clonazepam found in each hazelnut in this case was 150 mg.

Case: Visine in Water Bottles

In 2012, a 33-year-old single mother living in Pennsylvania was arrested for poisoning her 45-year-old boyfriend with Visine eye drops over a period of 3 years. Periodically, she added the eye drops to bottled water he drank. Her goal was to gain more attention from her boyfriend. It is not clear how this was intended to work.

The poisoning was discovered when suspicions were raised by the man’s physician who treated him over the years for unexplained episodic illnesses that included nausea, vomiting, blood pressure fluctuations, and breathing difficulties. The physician had the man’s blood tested in a clinical laboratory that identified the poison. Later, this was confirmed by authorities with toxicological testing in a forensic laboratory. The woman was charged with assault and reckless endangerment but she pleaded guilty to reduced charges of aggravated assault and was sentenced to 2 to 4 years in prison.

Comments

Many nonprescription eye drop and nasal spray products contain tetrahydrozoline or a closely related ingredient. These agents decrease congestion and reduce eye redness by constricting blood vessels in the areas where they are applied. When these topical products are ingested, they can have serious effects within the cardiovascular system, make breathing difficult, and produce nausea and vomiting. Large doses can induce seizures. There have been a number of unintentional as well as intentional poisonings reported that involve the ingestion of these topical eye and nasal products.

Case: Nanny Poisons Asparagus Soup

In 2010, a 32-year-old nanny was arrested for poisoning her employer’s food with automotive windshield washer fluid. The nanny pleaded guilty and received a 1-year prison sentence. The motive was to make the food less palatable and discredit the individual who prepared the food. Initially, she added excess salt to the food, then excess sugar, and finally added a container capful quantity of windshield washer fluid. The salty and sweet meals did generate a great deal of criticism regarding their preparation. The windshield washer-tainted food caused alarm because it was a clearly visible indication that something toxic was added. The tainted food, in this case asparagus soup, was brought to the attention of authorities and subsequently led to the arrest of the nanny.

Comments

Windshield washer fluids can contain methyl alcohol, which is potentially very toxic. It seems likely that the perpetrator in this case happened upon an opportunity in which she was delivering the food and used what was available in her vehicle rather than selectively deciding on the substance to use.

Case: Enthusiastic Tennis Father

Starting in 2000, a 46-year-old retired military pilot drugged a number of his child’s tennis rivals and was convicted of manslaughter after one of the players died in a car accident after being drugged. He doped the water bottles of at least 27 players during matches against his son over a period of 3 years. He had apparently become obsessed with this son’s tennis career. He had put several benzodiazepine tablets in the deceased player’s drink, making him so sedated that he crashed his vehicle when he tried to drive home. On previous occasions, opponents collapsed or felt ill during matches against his son but the connection between the cases was not made. There had been some suspicious behavior by the father, but no one seriously entertained the notion that he might be drugging the athletes. Routine toxicological testing during the car crash death investigation identified lorazepam in the decedent’s blood. The son was unaware of his father’s actions. He discontinued his participation in tennis competition after the actions of his father came to light. The father confessed to the charges and was sentenced to 8 years in prison.

Comments

It was believed that the father in this case had drugged sporting opponents more than 20 times. He was apparently living vicariously through the accomplishments of his son. There were no financial incentives for his actions.

Case: Physician’s Pregnant Mistress

In 2001, a married 35-year-old physician in Ohio was having an affair while he was trying to reunite with his estranged wife. His mistress became pregnant and refused the doctor’s requests for her to have a medical abortion. He then decided to abort the child himself, and perhaps rid himself of the mistress by poisoning her. He added anti-ulcer medication (misoprostol marketed as Cytotec) to her drinks. After a couple of weeks, the medication caused a miscarriage of her child. Suspicious that the physician was putting something into her drinks, the mistress contacted the police. Investigators set up a video camera and caught him tampering with her drinks and he was arrested, charged, and convicted for contamination of a substance for human consumption and attempted felonious assault. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison.

Comments

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of mifepristone and misoprostol in combination for abortion. Either drug is effective alone but their mechanisms differ and complement one another when used together. Misoprostol is also approved for prevention and treating of gastric ulcers. This use is limited to males and women who are not pregnant or likely to become pregnant.

Case: Inconvenient Pregnancy on Active Duty

In 2009, an airman stationed at an Air Force Base in Alaska was tried for the murder of his unborn child after he poisoned his wife, causing her to have a miscarriage. The airman did a computer search for at-home abortion methods and found the drug misoprostol. He ordered the misoprostol from sources he found on the Internet and mixed it with his wife’s food. One week later, his wife miscarried, thinking it was from natural causes. His wife later determined what her husband had done and reported him to military investigators. He was found guilty of attempting to kill an unborn child and sentenced to 9.5 years in prison.

Comments

Abortions induced by misoprostol are similar to those of spontaneous abortion (miscarriage). In both instances, there can be complications that require medical treatment. Generally, drug-induced abortions cannot be distinguished from miscarriages.

References and Additional Reading

Boussairi A, Dupeyron JP, Hernandez B, Delaitre D, Beugnet L, Espinoza P, Diamant-Berger O: Urine benzodiazepines screening of involuntarily drugged and robbed or raped patients. Clin Toxicol, 34: 721–724, 1996.

Cittadini F, Loyola G, Caradonna L, Minelli N, Rossi R: A case of toxic shock due to clandestine abortion by misoprostol self-administration. J Forensic Sci, 59: 1662–1664, 2014.

Grimes DA, Benson J, Sing S, Romero M, Ganatra B, Okonofua FE, Shah IH: Unsafe abortion: The preventable pandemic. Lancet, 368: 1908–1919, 2006.

Haw C, Stubbs J: Covert administration of medication to older adults: A review of the literature and published studies. J Psychia Mental Health Nur, 17: 761–768, 2010.

Khan TM, Mehr MT, Ullah H, Abrar A: Drug-facilitated street and travel related crimes: A new public health issue. Gomal J Med Sci, 12: 205–209, 2014.

Kintz P (Ed.): Toxicological Aspects of Drug-Facilitated Crimes. Waltman, MA: Academic Press, 2014.

Kintz P, Villian M, Cirimele V: Chemical abuse in the elderly: Evidence from hair analysis. Ther Drug Monit, 30: 207–211, 2008.

Latha KS: The noncompliant patient in psychiatry: The case for and against covert/ surreptitious medication. Mens Sana Monogr, 8: 96–121, 2010.

Majumder MMA, Basher A, Faiz MA, Kuch U, Pogoda W, Kauert GF, Toennes SW: Criminal poisoning of commuters in Bangladesh: Prospective and retrospective study. Forensic Sci Int, 180: 10–16, 2008.

Ramadan ASE, Wenanu O, Cock ADE, Maes V, Lheureux P, Mols P: Chemical submission to commit robbery: A series of involuntary intoxications with flunitrazepam in Asian travelers in Brussels. J Forensic Leg Med, 20: 918–921, 2013.

Rocca FD, Pignatiello F, Casacanditella G, Tucci M, Favretto D: Drug-facilitated crime: A diagnosis to remember in the emergency department. J Toxicol Risk Assess, 2: 2–3, 2016.

Senol E, Kaya A, Kocak A, Aktas EO, Erbas K, Islam M: Watch out for nuts in your travels: An unusual case of drug-facilitated robbery. J Travel Med, 16: 431–432, 2009.

Shbair MKS, Eljabour S, Lhermitte M: Drugs involved in drug-facilitated crimes Part I: Alcohol, sedative-hypnotic drugs, gamma-hydroxybutyrate and ketamine. A review. Ann Pharm Fran, 68: 275–285, 2010.

Villian M, Cheze M, Dumestre V, Ludes B, Kintz P: Hair to document drug- facilitated crimes: Four cases involving bromazepam. J Anal Toxicol, 28: 516–519, 2004.

Yin S: Malicious use of pharmaceuticals in children. J Pediatr, 157: 832–836, 2010.


This article appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Evidence Technology Magazine.

 
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