Speak with an expert today (800) 285-1763(For attorneys only)

How Does Death Affect Forensic Toxicology Findings

Forensic Toxicology

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Forensic toxicology is used to determine what chemicals were ingested or present at a crime scene, including trace elements and residue. The forensic toxicologist’s findings determine what chemicals were present, and in what concentration, at the time of death.

Determining what substances a person ingested, can be complicated by absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion (ADME). ADME describes the pharmaceutical composition within an organism. For example, opioids taken in pill form take about an hour to enter the bloodstream whereas injection of an opioid such as heroin, results in quicker absorption and consequently, a faster reaction to the substance.

In the state of California, it is required in cases of known or suspected homicide and suicide to conduct toxicology testing, particularly those cases where drugs or alcohol may have been factors in a decedent’s death.

A Case of Death

Forensic toxicology testing is also called post-mortem or tox-testing in the field. Toxicology testing may seem like a fast and efficient science in a CSI program, but in reality, the process can take weeks or even months. Tests determine what kind of drugs or other compounds are present in the body and at what level of concentration in order to determine if a dose was lethal or fatal. This process can involve several rounds of forensic testing between a medical examiner, toxicologist, and chemist. Following protocols set forth by the College of American Pathologists (CAP), tests are done for specific antibodies which detect traces of opioids, amphetamines, or alcohol in the blood, urine, or saliva of the decedent.

At the onset of an autopsy, once vital organs have been removed for examination, and the pathologist has recorded identifiers such as scars, marks, or tattoos; tissue and fluid samples are extracted from a body for further toxicology testing and analysis. Pathologists will preserve any organ where they find an abnormality. These are usually preserved in formalin, a colorless solution of formaldehyde and water. The toxicologist then tests for antibodies present in tissue and fluid samples.

In situations of drug overdose, a toxicology test, can be taken from urine or saliva. Opioids such as a heroine or oxycontin cause higher levels of dopamine to the brain, an organic chemical which functions as a neurotransmitter. The higher level of dopamine increases the sense of euphoria humans experience with eating, sleeping, or having sex. When a person has an overdose, the dopamine receptors in the medulla signal the central nervous system into respiratory depression. When an opioid level in the body gets too high, breathing is reduced to the point that it stops. This is how people addicted to heroin run the risk of accidental overdose and death.

Hiring A Toxicology Co-Counsel

In a wrongful death suit where suspected homicide or accidental death occurred, a person can hire what is commonly called a Toxicology Co-Counsel to support their case. Let’s create a theoretical scenario where a young person in their 20’s became estranged from their family due to drug abuse and addiction and subsequently died. The family had enough contact and knowledge to know that their relative had a relationship with a known dealer, who supplied their loved one with access to and the administration of heroin, contributing to the decedent’s death. The family could seek counsel in a wrongful death civil suit, which would not involve a prison sentence, but more likely compensatory damages. The role of the toxicology co-counsel is to analyze forensic toxicology tests of the victim and present their findings and expert testimony in court.

Spread the love


Lawyers of Distinction

Recent Blog Articles

Court Room Struggles Of An Expert Witness

Expert witnesses attend trials to provide specialist information to help a judge and jury make an informed judgement. Obviously, with this comes some difficulties that expert witnesses may face when presenting complex information to a court of law. Before understanding some of these struggles, it’s important to grasp what the…

Spread the love

Read More

Various Types Of DUI Alcohol Testing

In the state of Los Angeles, driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or other intoxicants, such as drugs, is considered a criminal offence. However, in order to prosecute someone or charge someone for DUI, you need to prove that the person was actually impaired while driving. There are different…

Spread the love

Read More

The Art of Gunshot Residue Testing

Do you know what happens when you fire a gun, and how law enforcement and expert witnesses use gunshot residue testing to discover if a suspect in a criminal case actually discharged a weapon? Okorie Okorocha explains everything you need to know about gunshot residue testing, it’s validity and why…

Spread the love

Read More

Speak with an expert today!

Contact the offices of Okorie Okorocha for professional and reliable advice which you can trust.

Call (800) 285-1763 Contact Us