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A picture of George Floyd hangs on a fence outside the Hennepin County Government Center on March 30, 2021, in Minneapolis during the trial for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. (AP/Mone) A picture of George Floyd hangs on a fence outside the Hennepin County Government Center on March 30, 2021, in Minneapolis during the trial for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. (AP/Mone)

A picture of George Floyd hangs on a fence outside the Hennepin County Government Center on March 30, 2021, in Minneapolis during the trial for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. (AP/Mone)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy March 30, 2021

No, autopsy doesn’t say George Floyd died of overdose

If Your Time is short

  • Two autopsy reports said the manner of George Floyd’s death was a homicide. Neither said the cause of his death was a fentanyl overdose.

  • The Hennepin County medical examiner found fentanyl in Floyd’s system, but the autopsy said the cause of his death was “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law-enforcement subdual restraint, and neck compression.”

  • Experts told the Washington Post they did not believe Floyd died from the fentanyl.

Months after a video of George Floyd gasping for air sparked months of protests nationwide, the murder trial began for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes.

At the center of the case is the question of how Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died. In the runup to the trial, social media users and some conservative commentators have recycled debunked claims that the autopsies said Floyd died of a drug overdose. 

"Toxicology report was made public by the MN prosecution revealing the cause of George Floyd’s death was a fentanyl overdose," said one March 24 Facebook post.

The Facebook post is wrong about what the Hennepin County medical examiner’s autopsy said. The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

Two autopsies were completed after Floyd died in May 2020, following what video footage shows was roughly nine minutes spent pinned under Chauvin’s knee. The two reports found different causes of death, but neither ruled that Floyd died because of an overdose.

An independent autopsy ordered by Floyd’s family ruled Floyd’s death a homicide. The two doctors who conducted the autopsy concluded that Floyd died of asphyxiation, or suffocation.

The Hennepin County medical examiner’s office also ruled that Floyd died in a homicide. But it said the cause of his death was "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law-enforcement subdual restraint, and neck compression," which occurred while Floyd was being "restrained."

In other words, Floyd’s heart stopped as Chauvin restrained him, as PolitiFact has reported.

Chauvin is charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

The medical examiner also found that Floyd had a combination of underlying health conditions, including heart issues, and that he had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system.

Notes from a meeting, which were submitted as evidence, show that Andrew Baker, the county’s chief medical examiner, told prosecutors that Floyd’s fentanyl use was higher than what a chronic pain patient would be on. "If he were found dead at home alone and no other apparent causes, this could be acceptable to call an OD," Baker said, per the notes.

Baker added: "I am not saying this killed him."

Defense attorney Eric Nelson argued on the first day of Chauvin’s trial that Floyd’s health issues and drug use combined with "the adrenaline flowing through his body" to make his "already compromised" heart fail. The defense previously made the same case in court documents.

But several experts in toxicology, cardiology and drug use told the Washington Post ahead of Chauvin’s trial that death by fentanyl overdose was unlikely or impossible. 

"From my review of the video and the autopsy report, I see nothing that makes me think he died of an opioid overdose," Kavita Babu, chief opioid officer and chief of the Division of Medical Toxicology at UMass Memorial Health Care in Worcester, Mass., told the Post.

Our ruling

A Facebook post said, "Toxicology report was made public by the MN prosecution revealing the cause of George Floyd’s death was a fentanyl overdose."

That’s not what the county medical examiner’s autopsy revealed. The report indicated that relatively high levels of fentanyl were found in Floyd’s system, but it ruled the manner of death a homicide and said the cause of his death was "cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law-enforcement subdual restraint, and neck compression." 

An independent autopsy ordered by Floyd’s family also ruled Floyd’s death a homicide, and it said the cause was asphyxiation.

We rate this Facebook post False.

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No, autopsy doesn’t say George Floyd died of overdose

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