A detective who got sick after working at the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks got the lung disease that killed him by injecting ground-up pills.
Chief Medical Examiner Charles Hirsch has concluded that retired police detective James Zadroga was injecting pills into his bloodstream, leaving traces of the pills in the lung tissue, spokeswoman Ellen Borakove told The Associated Press.
"It is our opinion that that material entered his body via the bloodstream and not via the airways," she said.
She confirmed Hirsch's findings after Zadroga's father and lawyer said that Hirsch told them the misuse of prescription drugs to treat his illness - not the hours of toiling in the rubble at ground zero - had caused Zadroga's respiratory disease.
A New Jersey medical examiner had ruled last year that Zadroga died from inhaling toxic ground zero dust, but the family asked Hirsch for a second opinion - and a ruling that would add Zadroga to the official Sept. 11 victims' list. Hirsch told the family his findings last week.
Zadroga's father said the former detective was taking more than a dozen medications when he died, including anti-anxiety medicine and painkillers including OxyContin, but never ground up pills and injected them. He said he kept his son's medication locked in a safe in their New Jersey home and said his son was not capable of taking medicine himself.
"His mother and I were taking care of him," Zadroga said. "He wasn't ever able to correctly take his medication."
Another pathologist asked by the family to review Zadroga's case, Michael Baden, said that slides of Zadroga's lung tissue showed large glass fibers and other foreign particles that were mostly close to the airways, a sign of material that has been inhaled. He said that if Zadroga had been grinding down pills and injecting them, his autopsy report would have noted scars and needle tracks on his arms.
"You can't make a diagnosis, in my opinion, of intravenous injections of ground-down pills on the basis of these slides," said Baden, the chief forensic pathologist for the New York State police who has often testified as an expert witness at high-profile trials.
The family asked Baden to review Zadroga's case after Hirsch ruled last week that the retired police detective who worked more than 450 hours at the World Trade Center site after Sept. 11 did not die from inhaling toxic dust.
Hirsch wrote a letter to Joseph Zadroga last week saying he believed "with certainty beyond doubt" that post-Sept. 11 exposure to toxic dust didn't cause the officer's death.
Zadroga became a national symbol of post-Sept. 11 illness following his January 2006 death, with bills named after him in Congress to fund research and treatment for those who became ill after working in the smoking ruins of the trade center.
So far, Hirsch has changed the death certificate of only one person - a woman who died five months after the attacks - saying that exposure to the toxic dust cloud caused or worsened her lung disease.