Thomas Andrew, M.D., was to retire from his position as chief medical examiner of New Hampshire on Sept. 11. He had to stay on to finish up some cases. Then on Oct. 7 came this headline from The New York Times: “As Overdose Deaths Pile Up, a Medical Examiner Quits the Morgue.” The story went on to discuss opioid overdose deaths throughout the country — a true and harrowing story, as are the deaths in New Hampshire. At the bottom of the story, New Hampshire was described as a place “where a backlog of autopsies has put the state at risk of losing accreditation.” At risk, but it did not lose accreditation. Still, this was followed by a section on the number of overdoses and cadavers in New Hampshire. Next came the Daily Mail, which on Oct. 9 wrote this headline and subhead: “New Hampshire’s chief medical examiner is retiring early amid overwhelming death toll from America’s worst drug epidemic” and “His office is now in danger of losing their National Association of Medical Examiners accreditation because of the number of bodies they have to analyze.” Next came Reason.com, which in its Oct. 11 rewrite of the Times story had this on top: “Bad Opioid Policy Is Killing So Many People That New Hampshire’s Medical Examiner Is Quitting His Job.”
It took 10 minutes to reach Andrew by phone. His retirement has nothing to do with the opioid epidemic, as he would have said if anybody had bothered to ask him. “I am most definitely leaving because I am done with my 20 years,” Andrew told ADAW last week. “We came close to losing accreditation because of the opioid crisis, but we passed; we were given full accreditation,” he said.
“I told my deputy that I was retiring in September 2017, and that was 15 years ago,” he said. “That was long before the opioid crisis began.”
If someone had bothered to ask him, Andrew would have explained his rationale for retiring. “I strongly feel, with any business, and especially any public agency, there is a leadership lifespan. I define that as 20 years. Even if you feel as if you have gas in the tank — and I do — any agency, particularly one like this, needs a new vision, a new set of eyes, new brains. Otherwise, bad things can happen, with complacency and staleness. My retiring is not a reaction to the current crisis.”
As for the new chief medical examiner — Jennie Duval, M.D. — “she’s ready to be chief,” said Andrew. “I have things I want to do.” In addition to pursuing a chaplaincy, Andrew will continue his forensic consulting business.