The police brought in a man accused of drug possession. According to one story, he told the officers he had hidden drugs in his rectum. Another version claimed he was seen behaving as if he was hiding drugs there.

A plain x-ray revealed no sign of a foreign object in the rectum. As the x-rays below indicate, drugs or packets of drugs are usually quite obvious.

The police demanded the rectum be visually inspected for drugs. Based on the x-ray findings, the doctors on duty saw no medical indication for such a procedure, and the patient refused to consent. Not willing to take “no” for an answer, the police obtained a search warrant signed by a local judge and presented it to the staff. When the doctors again refused, the hospital’s lawyer was contacted and told the physicians they must comply with the search warrant which said they should use any means to look for the supposed drugs.

What would you have done if you had been one of the doctors on duty?

Here’s what happened in October of 2017 at a hospital in Syracuse, New York. The story only recently came to light.

One doctor refused to perform the procedure. However with the help of eight police officers, another doctor sedated the patient and inserted a sigmoidoscope into his rectum. No drugs were found.

An article on quoted the doctor who did not comply with the police request as follows: “If an individual doesn’t have any medical complaint and is purely there for evidentiary collection, and is not an imminent threat to themselves, then the doctor is not there to do anything against the patient’s wishes.”

If drugs had been present, the patient would likely have passed them in a bowel movement within a day or two.

Previous similar cases have resulted in significant payments to patients.

A woman was arrested in El Paso, Texas on suspicion of smuggling drugs and underwent an x-ray, a CT scan, examinations of the rectum and vagina, and an observed bowel movement—none of which she consented to. Her case was settled by the Customs and Border Patrol and the hospital for $1,575,000. The CBP and the same hospital had settled another forced body cavity search case for $1.1 million.

A man in New Mexico received a settlement of $1.6 million after being subjected to two digital rectal examinations, a CT scan, three enemas, an x-ray, and a colonoscopy under anesthesia without consent. That patient received a bill for $6000 from the hospital. He did not pay it.

The Syracuse hospital also billed the patient $4595.12 which it eventually waived.

In May 2018, a man suspected of having cocaine in his rectum was brought to the Syracuse hospital. An x-ray showed no drugs. This time a doctor wrote in the record, ”Policy states that no cavity search to be performed unless medically indicated.”

The hospital staff learned something from the 2017 case. I hope you did too.


Skeptical Scalpel is a retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and a surgical sub-specialty and has re-certified in both several times. For the last 8 years, he has been blogging at and tweeting as @SkepticScalpel. His blog has had more than 3,000,000 page views, and he has over 18,000 followers on Twitter.