Deaths in Unlicensed Alcohol Rehabilitation Facilities

J Forensic Sci. 2017 Jan;62(1):103-106. doi: 10.1111/1556-4029.13253. Epub 2016 Nov 16.


Non-English-speaking people do not always seek medical care through established institutions. This paper reports a series of deaths in unlicensed alcohol rehabilitation facilities serving Spanish-speaking men. These facilities are informal groups of alcohol abusing men who live together. New members receive various treatments, including administration of ethanol or isopropanol, restraint, and seclusion. We reviewed 42 deaths in unlicensed alcohol rehabilitation facilities in Los Angeles County during the years 2003-2014. Data gathered included age, length of time spent in the facility, blood alcohol and drugs at autopsy, and cause and manner of death. Causes of death included acute alcohol poisoning, alcohol withdrawal, and a variety of other causes. Three cases were considered homicides from restraint asphyxia. The Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner has worked with the police, district attorney, and State Department of Health Services to try to prevent additional deaths in unlicensed alcohol rehabilitation facilities. Nevertheless, prevention has been difficult.

Keywords: Hispanics; alcoholism; aversive therapy; delirium tremens; forensic pathology; forensic science.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcoholism / mortality*
  • Asphyxia / etiology
  • Asphyxia / mortality
  • Blood Alcohol Content
  • Bronchopneumonia / mortality
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / poisoning
  • Diabetes Mellitus / mortality
  • Ethanol / poisoning
  • Homicide / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Licensure*
  • Los Angeles / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Restraint, Physical / adverse effects
  • Substance Abuse Treatment Centers / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / mortality
  • Young Adult


  • Blood Alcohol Content
  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol