About Forensic Toxicology
Many of the methods it employs have been derived from innovations in clinical medicine and academic laboratories throughout the world. Forensic toxicologists work with pathologists, medical examiners and coroners in helping to establish the role of alcohol, drugs and poisons in the causation of death. The toxicologist identifies and quantifies the presence of drugs and chemicals in blood and tissue samples. This is done using state of the art chemical and biomedical instrumentation capable of detecting small amounts of toxic materials, positively identifying them, and accurately measuring how much is present. Accuracy, validity and reliability are essential, as this information is used in the determination of cause and manner of death.
Those determinations are the prerogative of the medical examiner or coroner; how‐ever, the toxicologist is a key member of the team of experts that assist in that determination, consulting on pharmacology, drug kinetics and interactions, metabolism, adverse and idiosyncratic reactions, drug tolerance, postmortem artifacts, drug stability, and other factors.
The pathologist considers this information in the context of the investigative and medical history of the case, and the findings of disease or other medical conditions at autopsy. Accurately establishing the appropriate cause and manner of death has serious implications for public health and public safety, and forensically reliable toxicology is an essential component of that process.
Death Investigation toxicology is performed by both public and private laboratories and many private forensic laboratories provide specialized expertise and services not available in government laboratories.