NEW YORK — The death of New York police Det. James Zadroga, which was previously linked to his work in the rubble of the World Trade Center, was caused by injections of ground-up pills, the city medical examiner's office said Thursday.
"What caused the disease was the injection of the drugs into his bloodstream, as opposed to something he breathed," said Ellen Borakove, spokeswoman for Chief Medical Examiner Charles Hirsch.
The ruling outraged the family of Zadroga, 34, who became a symbol of post-Sept. 11 illness after his death last year.
The conclusion contradicted a previous pathologist's report that said Zadroga's death was the result of his work after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Zadroga family lawyer Michael Barasch said the detective's parents were "stunned" by Hirsch's explanation of their son's death: "They obviously are very upset. This is like ripping off a scab."
In his final years, Zadroga was too sick to manage as many as 14 medications for pain, infections, respiratory disease and anxiety, Barasch said.
Joseph Zadroga was in charge of administering his son's drugs.
"His father says he never saw his son grind any medications, and Mr. Zadroga certainly never did that," Barasch said.
Zadroga, was a decorated detective who worked hundreds of hours at ground zero.
His health deteriorated afterward, and he died in January 2006.
His death became a rallying cry for many 9/11 worker advocates who became similarly sick.
Borakove said the evidence of foreign materials from ground pills in Zadroga's lung tissue, which caused nodules known as granulomas, was "unmistakable."
Pathologist Michael Baden, who reviewed Zadroga's tissue samples and medical records at his family's request, said that Zadroga's lung tissue contained glass fibers and other materials near the airways, indicating that they were inhaled.
James Abberton, director of pharmacy services at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, said there was no legitimate medical reason to inject ground pills.
Such an action, he said, would be dangerous because binders and other agents in tablets designed to be swallowed would accumulate in tissue and could cause serious problems.
"The only way I could see anyone doing this was with drugs with abuse potential, a narcotic they want to inject," Abberton said.
Hirsch told the Zadroga family that "desperate drug addicts" were known to grind and inject pills, Barasch said, but only suggested that Zadroga had misused legal prescriptions.
Dr. Benjamin J. Luft, who heads the Long Island World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, said he was not aware that any of the 3,000 people in the program had ever injected ground pills.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.