Friday, January 13, 2006

Intro to toxicology testing

Toxicology testing: checking body fluids for drugs (including alcohol) and other toxins (e.g. carbon monoxide).

Drugs and alcohol cause or contribute to a large percentage of the deaths we investigate. They are involved in accidental overdoses, suicides, vehicular related accidents (driver, passenger or pedestrian), or can kill in concert with other “pathology” (e.g. an overly sedated individual with sleep apnea can/will die). Drug-drug interactions can be even deadlier than the use of a single substance, e.g. the use of benzodiazepines (like Valium) is most often only deadly when combined with alcohol. We do toxicology testing on every decedent in whom drugs, alcohol and/or toxins could be a consideration. It is easier for us than some Coroner’s offices, because we have our own in-house toxicology lab.

We test various body fluids. Vitreous, the fluid inside the eyeball, gives an excellent reflection of what was bathing the brain at the time of death. Blood, the most considered body fluid for testing, gives important results, but does have some limitations. The finding of drugs and alcohol in blood most often are used as proof of impairment, depending on the level. A finding of cocaine in the blood reflects use within a couple hours of death, but because there are enzymes in blood cells that can continue to break down cocaine after death and even in the blood draw tube the level found in the blood may not reflect that at the time of death. Delta-9-THC in the blood reflects marijuana use within about an hour of death, while Carboxy THC can be found in the urine out to about a week depending on chronicity of use. The finding in urine does not reflect impairment. There is also a distribution problem with blood testing as the drug moves about the body and in and out of various body compartments. We also test bile in some individuals, but a finding here only tells us that the use has been with about the last 2-3 weeks.

This will serve as a bit of an introduction to tox testing that I will build on in the future.

131 comments:

Anonymous said...

I found this post only after posting a question awhile back. I had asked if a coroner finds 2mg per liter in a decedent if it could make him commit suicide (jump off of a bridge) from just the cocaine. I was asking if he had that test post-mortem could that level have been so toxic could have made him kill himself. He did coke and from what I heard a half an hour later jumped from a bridge. Is there one core thing that could have made his suicide happpen with that much cocaine. He had absoulutely no signs of suicide ever that I noticed and I'm a mental health worker (25 years in the business, Masters). I hope that clarifies what I was asking. Your articles are so interesting

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Cocaine can contribute to suicidal action in 2 ways: 1) significant levels in the blood and brain can cause a drug-induced psychosis and/or 2) dropping levels or withdrawal after use can cause a deep depression with neurotransmitter depletion, or worsen an existing depression, both of these can result in self-harm or suicide.
Also, many using cocaine and other drugs are self-medicating, and the underlying condition/problem may have more to do with the death than the drugs.

John Donnelly PA-C said...

In a toxicology post mortem exam the lab reports cocaine/metabolites at 300 mg and Benzoylecgonine at 150 mg. Doe sthis indicate recent use? Would the use be heavy? The person entered the ER with acute laryngeospasm and died after they were unable to intubate or to place a trach in a timely manner.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

If those results are blood sample, the positive cocaine parent compund would point to recent use, i.e. within a couple of hours.
If they are urine results, the time frame could stretch out further to 10 or more.
Either result demonstrates significant consumption and while I have seen higher levels, could certainly point to lethal ingestion.
Laryngospasm (and even trismus) does occur with acute cocaine overdose and would be consistent with a significant ingestion and shorter time frame since ingestion.

Anonymous said...

My brother just recentlydied. There running the toxicology test on him. What I want to know is how long does this take? When will we know how he died?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Unfortunately, it can take 3-5 weeks when tox testing is sent out to a reference lab for testing and interpretation. That is why I am glad we have our own in-house tox lab.

Anonymous said...

question: in a postmortem exam there was cocaine traces found in the vitreous body, but not found in the urine or blood. how long ago might have the person used cocaine, months, years?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Still within a day of use, it doesn't stay very long in the vitreous, but longer than the blood

Anonymous said...

A friends's wife died and the her death is unexplained at present. She was suffering from headaches, muscle weakness, and on the night of her death she was suffering from a sever headache and double vision. She was given several drugs to control the pain and was told it was just a headache. Later she slipped into a coma and died. The family have been told that you can't test for a drug overdose after to death?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Testing can and should be done. It is most often submoitted to a national reference lab by the Coroner/ME office. Testing can be done on blood (best), urine, vitreous, bile, the liver, and other specimens, including decomp fluids.

Scott Wolfinger said...

Would an autopsy uncover stage 4 lung cancer, which spread to the brain, causing tumors?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Most definitely

Anonymous said...

My mother committed suicide and they only did an ethenal test. They did not do an autopsy. The lab has 16cc of blood left and I wanted to know what test I should order. 16cc isn't much to work with, but I do know that I want to see what her level of xanax were at the time. We had called 911 for an attempted overdose. The police and medics did not see a threat at the time and left the scene. She was found 8hrs later with both femorals cut. She was suffering an infection she contracted after having jaw surgery at the mayo clinic. Can any blood test be done to see if that may have had anything to do with her choice to leave us?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

There would be enough of a sample to check a Xanax level.

While it is obvious that your mother was suffering, there is no way to measure that suffering in a blood test, whether from the infection or not.

My condolences, make sure you have some support going forward

Jennifer Angel said...

Hello,
My brother committed suicide about 3 months ago. Blood was drawn for a toxicology report but the report came back negative for anything except caffeine. My family and I find this report to be unusual because my brother had a prescription for medical cannabis and he had been smoking cannabis regularly, so we find it odd that no THC showed up on the report.
Does this sound unusual to you?
Thanks.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

THC is detected in the blood for a much shorter time that it is detectable in the urine, so it is not at all odd that his blood was "negative", that is below the level of the test's lower limit of detection. There likely was some just not much, not enough for the test to be "positive". Had urine been tested you would have seen his use documented.

Anonymous said...

mom had stage 4 lung cancer
have concerns my mother was overdosed on morphine at a palliative care facility on Oct.5 it is now the 15th . can we have an accurate toxicology done at this point to find out if it was the morphine that killed her

Dr. Richard Keller said...

If blood was drawn at or near her time of death and those specimens are still being held levels could be run and may answer some of your questions. Otherwise, there is no way to get levels that would answer the question at this time.

My condolences.

angel mom said...

My son died 7 weeks ago at home, he was 17. He was found when we went to wake him for school. Autopsy was unremarkable. I called the medical examiners office and they said that they sent out for further toxicology and microscopic specimens, but the lady could not tell me what the specimens were or why they sent out for further toxicology. They say results will not be in for a few more weeks. Why would they need to do this?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Unfortunately, many ME offices don't have the capability to do toxicology testing "in house". That necessitates that they send out the testing to one of the large reference labs and they are then at the mercy of the lab for result turn around time. It is not unusual for the results to take 3-4 weeks to get back.

My condolences. With a death like your son's death it is critical to examine toxicology testing before any formal pronouncement on cause and manner of death. All possibilities must be checked and ruled out, if possible. Hang in there, your answers will come.

Anonymous said...

My Brother in law recently dies and some of my family, including myself believe it was a suicide. He was found in his car along with a bottle of unisom. He didn't have sleeping problems. When the toxicology reports came back, they said that they found traces of the unisom but not enough to kill him. My question is, after you die, do all the drugs stay in your system or can they go away?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Some drugs do indeed continue to be metabolized after death, most notably cocaine.

Diphenhydramine (Unisom) has not been well studied in overdose and death, so it is difficult to know whether how much post-mortem metabolism might occur. The amount of Diphenhydramine that might be lethal in an individual is going to depend on their overall health, what other meds they are taking, and if any other respiratory depressant was taken with it.

My condolences

Unknown said...

I'm a paramedic and recently have been called to court for call I was on. Long story short we found a male patient deceased, he was found weeks after his death, decomposing and such signs. Witness say he was a drug user and the were large amounts of drugs on scene. Toxicology reports came back negative for any drugs in his system, my question is how long will drugs stay in your body? Is it possible to still find traces after being dead this long?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Decomposition decomposes/destroys everything. A specimen drawn weeks after a death will be negative, no matter how much was in the system at the time of death. Blood must be drawn with a few hours of death to be of value in finding drugs, the exception is cocaine which will continue to be metabolized in blood after death. Urine and vitreous will hold results hours to a day. Sometimes bile can be used later, but it reflects use within weeks of the time of death, not just near the time of death

Mel34 said...

My brother was found deceased no signs of foul play also was badly decomposed no drugs in system he used heroine and was a alcoholic would either one of those be able to be found if it was an overdose. Also if you overdose how long after using does it take to overdose is it immediate or can it take 10-30min. etc.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

My condolences.

It is no way to do testing for drug overdose in individuals who have become badly decomposed. The decomposition fluids are just not testable.

Depending on the amount or concentration of the drugs used/consumed overdose death can occur essentially instantaneously (I have seen those who have died with the needle still in their vein), but it can take up to an hour for their death to occur from respiratory and circulatory collapse.

Anonymous said...

Is it a painful death if its not instantaneous? What things would you look for to know if it happened pretty fast or not?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

It does not appear to be painful, there brain is very suppressed (shut down, as it were) as well making it unlikely they experience anything during that timeframe.

We look at the amount of drug found in their bloodstream, urine and vitreous in their eyes, the distribution of the drug (it takes time to move through the body and into the urine), presence of metabolites, fluid backed-up into their lungs and airways from not breathing effectively, and their heart not circulating as it should. All of that is taken into account in the determination.

Anonymous said...

My brother passed away toxicology is as follows
Volatiles Blood: Ethanol Positive 96 mg/dl
Volatiles Urine: Ethanol Positive 126 mg/dl

Comprehensive Blood Screen
Cocaine Positive 116 ng/ml
Cocaethylene Positive 101 ng/ml
Benzoylecgonine Positive 1885 ng/ml
Levamisole Positive

Comprehensive Urine Screen was positive for all of the above

His cause of death is overdose.. Ng is a nanogram that doesn't seem like a lot. He was 6'6 287 pounds. Do you agree with this determination?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

My condolences.

While a nanogram by itself is small, the units here are ng/ml, that is for every milliliter of blood there was that much cocaine. That is, indeed, enough of the toxic cocaine to result in his death. Also keep in mind , as I have said before, there is no safe level of cocaine. Even small amounts in the "right place" can cause the heart rhythm to become erratic, cause spasm/closing of blood vessels in critical areas of the heart and brain. Any or all of this can result in death for the consumer of cocaine.

Anonymous said...

In March 2016 we found out that my dad passed away of a suspected overdose. He had bipolar and had been very unstable for a while. We lost contact with him a while before his death with the last known person to have spoken to him in August 2015 (6/7 months before he was found). Through various pieces of information we found out that he only had vodka in the fridge in his apartment and some other signs pointed to suicide. The person who found him told us that it looked like "he had been there for a long time" and that there was a noticeable smell and flies around. 8 months on and we are still waiting for the post mortem results but we have recently found out from toxicology results that there was alcohol intoxication. If he had been dead for 6 months before he was found would there still be traces of alcohol/drugs in his system? And will the coroner be able to give us an estimated time of death?

kelly k said...

My brother died 2 weeks ago. About 5 weeks before his death he told me he did a small amount of cocaine. About a week after using cocaine, he had to get a couple of blood transfusions. He was a bigger guy, about 280lbs. My question is, with the time passed between use, and death, his size, and his transfusions, will his toxicology test show positive for cocaine? I ask because I want to kniw if he had done more closer to death. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Why would a cause of death report take 16 weeks?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

My condolences

If your father had been dead for 6 months, standard toxicology would be impossible. More likely death occurred within days of his body being found.

The coroner should indeed have an estimated time window of his death.

It is time for you to get pushier about getting his autopsy results.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

The order of these posts is somewhat out of sync and I apologize. Nonetheless to kelly k:

Any cocaine in your brother's system would have been used by him much closer to his time of death than 5 weeks before his death. Cocaine itself in his blog means use within hours. Metabolites in his urine could mean use up to a few days of his death.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

To "Unknown" above:

It shouldn't take that long, get pushy and demand results.

Brooke Deaton said...

Will steroid and testosterone use show up on a toxicology report from autopsy?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

These and many other drugs are not picked up on a routine post-mortem screening. The routine screen concentrates on frequently used/abused drugs. Many other drugs/medications can be "special ordered", but they must be suspected to be ordered.

Anonymous said...

My friend's ex-husband was recently found dead in a lake 6 weeks after he went missing. The body shows no signs of injury. He was drunk the day he went missing. Would they be able to tell if he was drunk at the time of his death or if he could of possibly been alive for a few days before he was killed? Originally one of his room mates said he came home late Friday night/ Early Saturday morning, and then left around 6pm Saturday night to go get his phone and jacket from the bar he left, now supposedly they are saying he never made it home. It's just weird to me that that room mate knew he was missing his cell phone and jacket before that information was released by the police. We are suspecting foul play so we are hoping his BAC could show if he died that night or another night. We are still awaiting his toxicology results but she was hoping you might be able to answer if it can show if he was drunk or not after his body was dead for 6 weeks or so.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Any measure of blood alcohol at this point (6 weeks after death) would not accurately reflect alcohol that he may have consumed, unfortunately.

Unknown said...

My daughters ex boyfriend and father of her son just died, he was 25 and had a history of herion use. His autopsy was 2 days ago and the family tells her the medical examiner stated it was absolutely not a drug overdose...would they be able to determine that this soon

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Likely not, unless they have in office toxicology testing which is rather rare to have these days. Most of the time blood and urine or other body fluids have to be sent out and it takes weeks for results.

Amber Stoneberger said...

My sister was found deceased in a December. She was 32 and has no major health issues. She did have a prescription drug problem for many years. The tox screening came back and the only thing present in her system was Zoloft (.35). I'm very confused as I know she had taken a lot of xanax and other pain medications with in 24 hours of dying. Her cause of death was drug induced cardiac arrhythmia (Zoloft). No autopsy was done. Only tox screens. I'm very confused by this all. The prescription she had for Zoloft had not been filled since July and she had taken 27 of the pills in a 5 month period. She was in a bad place and was very down. She had basically hit bottom. I had assumed she had taken something off the street and overdosed. Is a level of 0.35 a leathal dose of Zoloft? The coroner had told me that he knew she died from a cardiac event and suspected it was cause by a drug or medication. He didn't feel an autopsy was needed. How would he have know that? I don't think she would have accidentally taken too much Zoloft as it didn't give her that buzz she wanted. I can only see her taking too much to end her life. I just need answers. I don't know what else to ask for.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

My condolences

It is possible for a Zoloft overdose to cause a cardiac rhythm problem related death, but it is infrequent. To get enough Zoloft into the system for a lethal overdose requires an intentional act.

It would be surprising that if she was known to have taken that none was found. Hopefully both her urine and blood were tested, because the results can be quite different. Ask if both were tested. That is really all I can add for you.

Anonymous said...

A few weeks ago my older brother commited suicide.. 5 days prior he went to a music festival with his friends, afterwards he admitted to me that he did a small amount of a drug called cat. I just want to know if that could be the cause for him leaving us, and if it would come up on his toxicology report

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Cat/Khat/Methcathinone taken 5 days before his death is unlikely to have contributed to his death, it would have been cleared from his system. Detection would require a specially ordered urine test. It is not routinely tested for.

My condolences.

Anonymous said...

Hi. My mother passed away on 11 April 2017. We found 2 empty bottles of whiskey on her dressing table. She was 61 years old and not a drinker at all. She was addicted to anti-depressants and sleeping pills. We are not sure whether it was suicide or not. She complained not sleeping well the last couple of months. I think she drank the alcohol to get some sleep. Blood were send to toxicology. Her autopsy was done about 36 hrs after death. Will her blood show her alcohol levels? I read up that the alcohol levels in blood decline after death? If this is the case how will we know what caused her death? Thank you

Linda s said...

my daughter was found unresponsive and sort of a blueish color and ice cold I found her about 11:15am that morning. when the medical examiners office called me the next day I was told there were no signs of a normal trama which would be like heart attack, seizure, whichever BUt i would not get the toxicology report for 2-3 months i did not find anything out of the ordinary like empty pill bottles laying around or packages. my daughter was on many medications for depression, OCD anxiety. she had blood not a lot sort of watery on her face around her mouth can you tell me if i would get the reading of this report in the mail or they would call me?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Dear anonymous, My condolences regarding your mother's death.

The blood alcohol level will give some information, but will not be totally accurate because it does decline slowly after death, as you mention.

Likely, the levels that were drawn for her other meds will also contribute information. An autopsy, if done, would also contribute

The death investigation along with the post-mortem drug.med/alcohol levels and the autopsy are considered when arriving at the cause of death.

I would also mention that many people who overuse alcohol are secret drinkers and function well for an extended period of time, until they can't any longer.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Linda s

My condolences.

The toxicological report will most likely give you the answers you need [they should call you with the results, not send them in the mail. I'd complain if they do the latter]. The material you mention around her mouth at death is called "purge" and is consistent with a drug/med induced death.

amy melissa said...

My 16 yr old son has been deceased for almost 6 months we don't know the cause of death yet and have heard nothing about his toxicology report . I found him in his room when he died . The medical eximainer said she had seen cases like his but it was highly unusual . I asked her was there any way it was drug related and she said no . When the EMT 's worked on him they pulled a lot of blood and fluid off of his lungs . He was fine that night when I went to bed we had gone to the mall earlier went shopping etc . Why would the results take so long to get back ?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Actually, it sounds very consistent with a drug overdose induced death. The blood and fluid in lungs and airways occurs frequently
in overdose deaths.

Toxicology results should not take 6 months to be reported out. You will, apparently, need to really push to get the results (demand them) and you may need to go over the head of the medical examiner (everyone reports to someone).

My condolences

Jessica L said...

Hello, I was wondering if alcohol, Adderall, and cocaine would be present in a deceased person after being in a river for 2 months?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

In a word: No

In water decomposition would make that impossible

Anonymous said...

Why would my husband's serum test come back positive. Then the peripheral blood test say negative? Also how much oxymorphone did he take if the peripheral blood test came back 0.022? Their saying his death was complication due to history of long term intravenous use,but he had heart and kidney issues. Yet said cause of death was natural.

Anonymous said...

Why would my husband's serum test come back positive for benzodiazepines but his peripheral blood test say benzodiazepines not detected?

Keri said...

My boyfriend and a friend of his went missing from a campground up in the mountains, the night they went missing it snowed and continued to snow on off for the next few weeks and months. 4 months after they went missing her body was located in an inlet to a lake that is about 3 miles from where the car they were driving was located. She was able to be identified by tattoos on her body. The autopsy said cause of death was drowning and she also had methamphetamines in her system according to toxicology reports. So my questions are would snow preserve a body from decomposition even with sunny days of high temperatures in between snowfall for months or even weeks? Also how long would it take before a body would start to decompose when in water is it faster or slower Because of those conditions? If she was dead for months even in the snow or water would tattoos still be recognizable? How long does methaphetamine stay in a persons blood system after death? Also if she had died from the cold like hypothermia would it be possible for it to look like she had drown according to an autopsy?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Dear anonymous:

Regarding the benzo testing: the 2 tests likely had different sensitivities and/or cut-off levels for positivity. That is often the case, with serum test being more sensitive for certain drugs.

There is no way to back calculate the amount oxycontin used from the level found in blood. That is true of most drugs, with the most obvious exception being alcohol (although even that is not as accurate as many would have you believe).

It would appear that the cause of death for your husband was declared to be due to his heart and/or kidney disease (thereby "natural"), yet had his IV drug use as a contributing factor. IV drug can and does contribute to and complicate both heart and kidney disease, but it is the heart and/or kidney disease that is the proximate or actual cause of death.

My condolences.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Dear Keri

If the water was as cold as I would guess it to have been in these circumstances, I'd say she likely died of a combination of hypothermia (cold) and drowning with the hypothermia contributing to the drowning. An individual in cold water quickly loses body temperature, even quicker that when exposed to cold air and snow. That hypothermia would cause loss of consciousness contributing to drowning. Autopsy finding of hypothermia are notoriously subtle.

Depending on the temperature of the fresh water, decomposition would be faster than dry land.

Tatoos can be seen/found on a body despite fairly advanced decomposition. Decomposition can be "spotty" helping to preserve a tattoo as well. Tatoos are often used for presumptive identification of deceased individuals.

Unless frozen and remaining frozen, decomposition would definitely occur in the conditions you describe.

While methamphetamines can be found as long as blood remains to be tested, and a liver specimen could be used even after the blood is gone, considering that decomposition destroys the blood, 4 months with decomposition would make recovering it, and having a positive test you can trust, a bit of a stretch, but most anything is possible.

MWard76 said...

Hmmmm.....🤔

MWard76 said...

Would that depend on the temp. Of the water or what month. For example, from January to April?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

It would depend on the temperature, the warmer the more decomposition, and the amount of sunshine affecting the ambient temperature.

The month would be only indirectly be related in that April tends to be warmer than January (north of the equator).

Kris said...

Hello. My son died by suicide shortly before his 16th birthday. ahe had been drinking for around 12 hours as well as earlier in the evening inhaling deodorant to get high. The police did a blood test for alcohol of 124 mg/dl and 183 mg/do in the Urine. They found no traces of drugs or toxic substance. I would like to understand if those reports are likely accurate - they were taken about 36-48 hours after his death and are these levels of accurate high enough to have caused my son to make a decision without comprehending the outcome. Or in other words would it be accurate to assume his use of alcohol contributed to his decision to end his life? Would inhaling deodorant 5 hours prior to death play any role in affecting his mind? I am being told the alcohol levels were too low to have been a reason for the suicide and I would like to understand this better. Many thanks kris

Anonymous said...

If a body is submerged underwater (car accident) for two plus months-water conditions; cold to warm ranging from Jan. (death) to March (body found), can cocaine, Adderall, and/or alcohol still be detected in said body's autopsy, and if so, can levels of each be detected? *Urine was still present in bladder, if that matters*

Dr. Richard Keller said...

To Kris

My condolences

Certainly those levels of alcohol in his system, twice the "legal limit", could cloud his judgement and decrease his natural inhibitions. The level may have even been higher, considering the time lapse between death and the draw.

Overtime and that evening, inhalant use could also cloud his judgement.

Death by suicide is often complex to understand and deal with, particularly with your own son. I'd recommend that you also find someone for some talk therapy to assist you with understanding.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

To (latest) anonymous

In that scenario, finding those drugs would be difficult, particularly the alcohol. The alcohol findings would be unusable, the other possible. The vitreous (eye 'fluid') might be usable and/or the liver. Central blood, doubtful.

As a source, the urine might reflect use hours prior to death (it take a while for urine to form and enter the bladder), but might also be contaminated with the body's decomposition.

Anonymous said...

My father was found deceased with 6 empty prescription bottles. His approx time of death being 1:30am on a Friday and his autopsy was performed at 9:00am on Saturday the next day. Toxicology report came back only showing medication at therapeutic levels. His death was ruled as heart disease due to some major blockages. Is it possible that due to the time lapse in death and the autopsy that the medication could no longer be detected? Medication was several different antidepressants/antipsychotic medications.

Lisa Mahan said...

My daughter passed away December 30,2016. The Police had a toxicology test run because they were saying it was suicide. I still don't believe this and just received the autopsy report. They said she had been deceased about a week, the last she was seen was the 23rd of December. The autopsy report said that no drugs were found because her organs were to decomposed. I want to know if this could be true. Also they said she shot herself in the mouth but no gunshot powder residue was found in her mouth or on her anywhere. Please give me your opinion on this as soon as possible. Thank you Lisa

Anonymous said...

My sister passed away 2 months ago. Overdose was greatly suspected (and possible suicide). She was on may medications (seroquel, trazadone, gabepetin to name just a few). She had worked the system to fill 5 new prescriptions that day (that she did not need). Based on the timeline(using her phone activity, etc), we now know that it had been 7 days before she had been found. We were just given the toxicology results - low level of alcohol as well as "normal" amounts of the other drugs. We suspect that the levels must have been much higher at the time of death, but that is not what was presented to my parents. Her cause of death was ruled cardiac arrhythmia - though I believe that is in lieu of any other cause to list. We are wondering if these results could be accurate 7 days out (plus I believe 3 more before the autopsy was performed)? They do not seem to match up with the number of pills missing, etc. Thanks for any clarification you could provide.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Anonymous, regarding your father's death

The levels found would still accurately represent those present at death, considering the time frame you state.

If he did take all of the meds from the 6 bottles they may have interfered with the absorption of the total taken, or he might have flushed them.

My condolences

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Ms Mahan, regarding your daughter

Decomposition will indeed interfere with post-mortem drug testing, therefore not surprising nothing was found on testing.

Decomposition can also interfere with detection of gunpowder residue. The investigation would be the decision maker on suicide or some other manner of death.

My condolences

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Anonymous, regarding your sister

Seven days from death to draw with intervening post-mortem changes would make drawing conclusions about the accuracy of the levels found difficult, just as you were wondering.

Arrhythmia may have been the cause (those meds can cause arrhythmia and sometimes it does just happen), and is also used as a cause when no other abnormalities are found, as you suggest.

My condolences

Anonymous said...

My brother passed away July 13,2016. It was an accident. The vehicle fall into a river and dead body found after 3 days after accident (July 16). He is not used to drink any alcoholic drinks .The accident was occurred early morning around 5AM.But the postmortem report shows that there is 116ml alcoholic content.
I doubt that there is something wrong with the postmortem report .I think it was a drama played by insurance company. But it hurts his mother a lot.we are unable to face the questions from relatives regarding this matter.

Can you please clear my doubts about this.

Mary said...

Thank you for your reply. Would you mind explaining further what you mean by the possibility of interference in absorption? I am still very confused and bothered by the fact that so much medication was missing but yet it doesn't line up with the autopsy results ruling his death as a heart attack. The half life's of each medication varied anywhere from 3-30 hours and the autopsy being about 36 hours after death. I'm just having a hard time understanding why it looked like an OD if it really wasn't. Medications were picked up from pharmacy on 3/27, 30 qty so if he was taking as prescribed, there should have been about 1/2 left in each bottle because he died on 4/14. Thanks again for helping me try to piece it all together.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Anonymous, regarding your brother:

Decomposition can generate alcohol on post-mortem testing (up to that sort of level), so depending on how much decomposition had occurred that might offer an explanation to consider.

My condolences

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Mary, regarding your request for further information:

A large amount of medications taken together can lump together, causing a "concretion", stopping absorption. Requesting information about the stomach contents that should have been examined at autopsy would get you that answer. At least a consideration.

Jason Bourne said...

Have Tox results of Ethanol in Chest fluid .113%, Urine .180% and Bile .139%. Death was instantaneous as a result of Pedestrian/MVA. Samples gathered about 36 hours postmortem. Consumption probably 1 hr prior to MVA. What result is probably most accurate and why? Thanks!

Dr. Richard Keller said...

The "chest fluid", being the most closely connected to blood, would be the closest to blood level accurate, although the blood level is still the "gold standard" test.

Anonymous said...

I recently recieved my boyfriends autopsy results back after 6 months pf waiting, mostly for tox results? He used heroin and other things off and on. There were drugs found on the scence when he was found. From what we can tell he was deceseaed 4 days before found in a hotel room with. Tox came back clean??
Also there was no tox report of the powder substance included in autopsy report? Is this normal? Where and whom do I request the results of that from.
His death was ruled unknown/ undetermined? How can this be? There was no anatomic or toxologic cause of death?
Thank you.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

My condolences

The toxicology testing was likely affected by time of death to time of drawing specimen and the possibility of some decomposition. Earlier testing could have given very different results. Realize that a "clean" tax report may contain drugs, but at levels below the lab "cut-off levels".

Testing of the "powder" would likely be up to the law enforcement agency involved, a report should be available from them.

It is not at all unusual to rule cases like this as "undetermined". Likely related to drug use, but without the proof to call it so.

Anonymous said...

My fiance passed away unexpectedly August 21st. He was reaching out before that to local police and FBI regarding drug trafficking. We suspect his death may have been from heroin with a combination of other things added. We were initially told the toxicology report would be back within four to six weeks, but today they said 8 to 12. Because of how he died and the possibility of homicide, I am questioning why it is taking so much longer. I had someone reach out to me and tell me that whoever he had gotten something from only sells clean heroin and if anything was in it it would have been deliberate.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

My condolences.

8-12 weeks is long, but if the lab is overloaded or there is something else going on slowing the processing, it does sometimes take that long. It shouldn't take longer.

Drug dealers are not watched by the FDA, so no matter what someone might say you never know what they are selling or what you are buying. These days it is not at all unusual for heroin to contain fentanyl (an even more deadly drug) even from the "best dealers".

Anonymous said...

My brother was missing in the woods for almost a month before his body was found. My question is if a toxicology test is performed 3 weeks after a person died would it be able to determine if they died from a meth overdose or even if they had been using meth at time of death?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Results of a tox screen after that length of time and exposed to the 'elements' would not be reflective of what might have been recovered shortly after death. It is doubtful that methamphetamines would be seen even if they contributed to his death.

My condolences

Unknown said...

My friend husband drinks whiskey with his xanax, hydrocodone, antibiotics and cholesterol medicine!!! She has told him that he is committing suicide but he seems to not care!! Is he or will they find out in his toxicicology report if he passed away?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

The alcohol (whiskey), Xanax, and hydrocodone would show up on routine post-mortem testing. Mixing those drugs is indeed a potentially lethal combination.

Brandie said...

My husbands sister passed away recently. She was found outside in a wooded area, just short of a day after her death. A headstrong detective told them he expected foul play, even though the medical examiner concluded that the matter of death was undetermined, pending toxicology. If we’re just awaiting toxicology, I’m assuming that means just blood work right? Ex overdose? She has been a pretty heavy user on and off her entire life, Alcohol and cocaine were her drugs of choice. So I guess what I’m trying to ask is, if we are just waiting for toxicology how can he still be suspecting “foul play”? and being that she was found hours after her death, if she did die from substance abuse, would it still be detected if it were alcohol and cocaine? I know toxicology takes weeks, it’s been about a month and I’m trying to calm my husband down by saying that I don’t think there is anyway it could of been a homicide if all they are waiting on is toxicology (unless they believe she was poisoned) which is unlikely. I just need verification to have any attempt to ease his mind for what ever it is worth.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

The way you explain the events surrounding her death would seem to make "foul play' very unlikely and a drug related death quite likely. Awaiting toxicology results, without other speculation is certainly warranted. The post-mortem exam would have demonstrated trauma if that was a possibility and without that "foul play" would be highly unlikely, particularly for someone found outdoors in a wooded area. Someone with a history of "heavy" drug use, particularly her drugs of choice, make that the most likely cause of death.

My condolences

Unknown said...

A friend was found dead in a freezer. They determined her death and accident. In the tox report, it showed the had a BAC level of 112mg and toparimate level of 3000ng. Cause of death was hypothermia with both alcohol and topa as factors. She was found 17-21 he's after "she locked herself inside if the freezer" would the BAC levels decrease, and would putrefication have kicked in?

bryson memes said...

My daughter was found in her car in a secluded area this past october. She had been missing for a little over a month. Her normal weight was around 105lbs. My daughter had a drug problem and we were told her drug of choice was called china white?. WHEN the police found her , her body was so badly decomposed we had to give them dental records. Toxicology was sent off and we have not heard anything back. The detective said it looked like she had been there for a while.First due to her small size and decomp of her body will we ever know what was in her system? She was found Oct,23,2017.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Dear Unknown:

In a situation like you describe, if anything the alcohol would be most likely to be stable to slightly decline (it is volatile). A body in a freezer that length of time would not decompose/putrify.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Bryson-

My condolences.

China white is a type of heroin.

The amount of decomposition would interfere with any ability to ascertain drug use prior to her death and its contribution to her death.

bryson memes said...

Then what is the purpose of a toxicology report? If it can not show her cause of deat h then are you saying we will never know.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

The toxicology testing is ordered for completeness of investigation, despite it not being likely to contribute any real information in the case of your daughter. Unfortunately, you are not likely to have a definitive answer as to the cause of death for your daughter.

bryson memes said...

Due to her body being in the car for a while according to the detective, can this report give a time of death? How long had she expired. I just want to know how long my baby was there. As parents we never gave up looking for her and for us to find out like this rips our hearts apart. So my question is this. Due to her being small and in her car with the windows rolled up, and the weather at the time was around 80 degrees in NC, would the decomposition of her body happen more rapidly due to weather. However,she was inside her vehicle with windows up, so nature couldnt get inside to speed up the process.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Her decomposition would indeed have been speeded up in conditions you describe.

I think you have to believe, because it is quite likely from her history, that her drug use at least contributed to her death. She likely used heroin or some other opiate and went to sleep, dying in her sleep.

Again, my condolences. A parent should never have to experience the death of their child, but it is indeed your reality.

Kelle said...

My 27 son had been using heroin at least a couple weeks prior to his death that we know of (text messages). The night he died, the friend he was staying with said he ate dinner with them and all seemed fine. He did have a bad cough and the entire family had this same respiratory issue. They convinced him to go to the doctor the next morning. He went upstairs after dinner, they found him dead on the the bathroom floor around midnight. He had a empty needle in his pocket. Toxicology report found old and recent needle marks on his arm. But zero drugs in his system. He was negative for everything except nicotine. His death was ruled nature and cause was “Drug withdrawal Syndrome”. I’m so confused. How could he eat dinner and he was even planning on going out and meeting friends later that night. How could he do that if he was having withdrawals that would be enough to cause his death? One thing that wasn’t in the report was a bump on his head that would be consistent with him falling foreword off the toilet and hitting the side of the tub. Could he have had mild withdrawals where he would still eat and want to go out and that combines with a really bad cough/respiratory infection end up killing him? He was 6’ and 188lbs with no medical issues.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Was an autopsy done? That would be the only way to know if he died of a head injury or if the respiratory symptoms were the sign of something more than a upper respiratory infection or if he had some cardiac condition.

Significant heroin withdrawal is not a subtle group of symptoms, I would expect it would have limited his eating dinner. Heroin withdrawal, at any level, rarely kills, as some other drug withdrawals do.

Without autopsy findings, I'd be hard pressed to know his cause of death.

My condolences.

Kelle said...

Thank you. No, they did not do an autopsy to the extent of opening him up. In fact the report Friday mention the bruise and bump on his head. By the way it was the Lake County Coroners that did the report and toxicology. Someone told me that he could of injected Fentanyl and it metabolized so quickly that it didn’t show up on the toxicology. Could that be the case? Thank you again for your insight.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

While fentanyl is metabolized relatively rapidly, it or its metabolites would still be found in your son's blood and/or urine on toxicology testing in a situation as you describe, if fentanyl was related to his cause of death. Blood testing is usually positive for a couple of days after use and urine is usually positive for a day after use.

Anonymous said...

My husband was murdered (shot 3 times), The murders wrapped his body in carpet and threw him on the side of the road. He was not found until 8 days later. I know he drank ( not sure if he actually did that day) but the toxicology report has his Ethanol and BAC results as 236 mg/dl and .236 g/100ml. They apparently only used heart blood, not sure why they did not use the vitreous blood. I read where these results could be false due to decomposition. The only samples taken were Heart blood and liver tissue. Is there any way I can find out what his actual alcohol level was?

Anonymous said...

My 36 yr old son was found dead on August 11, 2017, in a hotel room out of state. He was found around noon on the 11th, but he definitely passed away the evening before. (Sometime between 9pm-midnight approx.) This whole situation has been beyond frustrating. First of all, the Minnesota ME hurried through the autopsy, enbalmed, shipped him, and he was back in Michigan and buried within a week. That is pretty unheard of from what I've been told...

The next thing that was odd was that tox was back within 3 weeks. The ME couldn't wait to fill out the death certificate. He said it was cardiomegaly due to "suspected" steroid use and it was of natural causes. That didn't set real well with me; it just seemed "off..."

Fast-forward to October and I get the patrol and invesigative reports from Minnesota and I find out it was a suspected drug overdose and there were syringe(s) lying next to him that tested positive for fentanyl. MN never told me anything about a suspected drug OD. So I had to start over and grieve something altogether different, though much more believable... Also, when he was found there was blood (mostly dried at that point) coming out of his mouth. During the autopsy he presented with bilateral pulmonary edema and congestion and generalized cerebral edema. I have been told by other professionals that these are very common findings with a drug overdose.

The problem with the tox that has been conducted in MN is it's showing negative for fentanyl. My thought is he was gone 12-14 hours before he was found, so he was in a room temperature hotel room in the middle of summer. I had hoped that the EMT's would have done a blood draw at the scene, but alas, it was not drawn until the next morning at 11:30, when the autopsy was conducted. It seems to me that the integrity of the blood would/could be compromised 36-38+ hours post-mortem. The only other fluid they tested was a rapid test strip for carfentanil using some urine. Meanwhile, a criminal investigation is being conducted in Michigan. The investigators in Michigan have commented that fentanyl goes through the system very rapidly and may not show up.

Your thoughts on the tox thus far and the viability of the blood after that many hours. Thanks you so very much...

Anonymous said...

Hello DR. Keller
9-5-17 I lost my 49 yr old boyfriend/best friend to a combo of etoh, thc,cocaine. He weighed 193 was 72 inches tall. I knew he drank beer & smoked weed, he was dx as bipolar, but rather than being properly treated, by a doc. He self medicated with beer & weed. He did not smoke cigarettes ever. I knew he had done cocaine, in the past. But never knew him to do it the 5yrs we were together. Labor day we got into an argument he decided to go to a local bar, I dropped him off at the bar on that Monday at 11am at to have a few beers & play some keno. At 5:30 pm a friend picks him up from the bar, go to a gas station pick up another 24 pack of beer. His friend claims my boyfriend passed out 15-20 minutes after they left the gas station. While my bf is passed out in the car, but according to him still breathing & snoring. They ran erands until 12:30 that night. The entire time my bf still passed out in the car. When they finally park the car in the driveway at 12:30am. They claim they tried to wake him up to get him in the house. But he wouldn't budge, but was supposedly, still breathing & snoring. So they left him in the car, until they discovered him blue between 10:30 -11am the next morning. The autopsy said his heart & arteries looked great, a little stenosis & beginning stages of cirrhosis of the liver. He had COPD. He did not know he had. I do know he also had undiagnosed sleep apnea, as I witnessed myself many times. Coroner said he did not vomit, or urinate, while in the car all this time. Said physical exam showed no injuries, except a possible needle mark, medial of left ankle.
I know there is never amount of safe drugs. But compared to some of the other levels I am seeing on here, his seem lower. I'm confused. It just seems like he quit breathing? Just wondered your thoughts? His femoral blood levels were:
Ethanol quant-0.029%
Thc quant 1.5 ng/ml
Thc cooh 3.4 ng/ml
Benzoylecgo nine 74.9 ng/ml
Vitreous eye ethanol quant. 0.063%
Please help me understand...

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Anonymous 1: Indeed decomposition makes measured alcohol in the blood unreliable. Vitreous fluid testing may have given more information about his level before death. With that in mind, and your husbands post-death situation, there really isn't any alternative way to find out his actual alcohol level. My condolences on your husband's death.

Anonymous 2: My condolences on your son's death. The post-mortem mishandling by the local ME is indeed unfortunate. You ought to lean heavily on the police investigation results, I agree they are much more believable. The autopsy finding of pulmonary edema and congestion is indicative of an opiate related death, not steroid use. The syringe positive for fentanyl seals that likelihood. Fentanyl, because it is rapidly metabolized and excreted is easy to "miss" post-mortem. Your sources are correct.

Anonymous 3: My condolences on your loss of your best friend and boyfriend. So many people self-medicate and then slide into worsening problems. I would point out that snoring, particularly in situations like this, often means that the individual is losing their airway and ability to breath adequately. I would posit that his sleep apnea and COPD likely contributed to his death due to polysubstance use, most particularly the cocaine and alcohol.

Cindy said...

I am truly grateful to have found you. My son died 11/21/17 in the evening. His body was not found until 11/24/17 7am. His cause of death is listed as cardiorespiratory arrest secondary to multiple drug ingestion. All drugs listed were from femoral blood. Except the last listing of Ethanol was from vitreous fluid.
Ehanol 83 mg/dl
BAC 0.083 g/100 ml
Caffenine Positive
Cotinine Positive
Cocaine 240 ng/ml
Cocaethylene 40 mg/ml
Benzoylecgonine 570 ng/ml
Morphine - Free 18 ng/ml
6-Monacetylmorphine - Free <1.0 ng/ml
Delta 9 THC .55 ng/ml
Fentanyl 12 ng/ml
Ampetamine 28 ng/ml
Methamphetamine 260 ng/ml
Ethonal 94 mg/dl Vitreous Fluid

I am trying to find out which drug killed him exactly. Did he die from a heroin overdose, or did he most likely die from a cocaine or ampetamine/Metamphetamine overdose? Could he have been lying there in pain for some time?

Please help me understand if you possibly can. I have been researching all of these levels and it is so complicated. For me knowing, understanding all facts, gives me peace.

Thanks so much for your time.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

My condolences

Your son died of a poly-substance use/ingestion. It is impossible to say that a single substance in the mix caused his death. It was most likely the combination of the whole. There appears to have been enough cocaine used to have been fatal (however, remember there is no safe level of cocaine) and enough heroin (we know it is heroin by the 6-mam) together with fentanyl, a highly lethal drug in its own right. The methamphetamine was most likely a contributor to the others I mentioned.

With all these substances on-board he would have lost consciousness quickly and died in his unconsciousness without pain.

SLUR 312 said...

I recently had to take a drug test and they're bringing it to the corners office to be screened I was so seeing what they normally test for in a urinealysis?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

A typical 5 panel drug test checks for:
Opiates, Cocaine, Marijuana, Methamphetamine/Amphetamine, and PCP

Of those tests the marijuana/THC test can be positive the longest after last use. In a daily user the test can be positive out to 45 days.

Warrior 42172 said...

My friend passed away 1 month ago of a drug overdose and we are waiting on the toxicology report to come back. They say that it’s possible that the drugs he was using (specifically heroin) was laced with other drugs. Is it still going to be possible to find out exactly what it was that he died from? That’s going to be the only way that the investigation can move forward to attempt to charge someone with his death

Dr. Richard Keller said...

It unfortunately is not at all unusual for it to take 4-6-8 weeks to get toxicology results back from one of the big reference labs. As long as the specimens were drawn in a timely fashion and handled correctly, the results will be true and valid. I hope you get the answers you seek.

Rebecca Doughty said...

How soon after death should blood samples be taken for post mortem toxicology before blood alcohol levels become affected due to decomposition?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Blood for toxicology testing should be drawn as soon as possible after death.

There is an impact from the ambient temperature surrounding the body (hotter area, faster decomposition) and a few other factors (fever before death, for example), but certainly by 24 hours after death decomposition will interfere with blood alcohol levels. That interference can occur sooner, each case is individual. Whether decomposition is going to affect blood alcohol levels is based on examination of the individual who has died.

Rebecca Doughty said...

Thank you. Would the BAC levels rise or fall as the decomposition process starts? So for example, if bloods weren't taken until 5 days after death, would the BAC reading be higher than if it had been taken immediately after death? Thank you

Dr. Richard Keller said...

While it could go either way, alcohol levels will tend to rise first in decomposition as the process makes its own alcohol.

Rebecca Doughty said...

in our case toxicology bloods weren't taken until 5 days after death in a warm May. Vitreous fluids were not taken for whatever reason is not clear. The description of the body state is not disclosed either in the post mortem report. Is it likely then that the BAC levels reported could be falsely elevated? Thank you. We have been told there a marginal error but we'd like to be clear on how much this could be? Thank you

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Warm May and 5 days, there was decomposition. Decomposition can elevate blood alcohol level as the decomposition results in the production of alcohol.

Studies have show increase of blood alcohol levels as much as 0.15% with decomposition (keep in mind, in many places a level of 0.08% is legally drunk). Difficult to predict in a given case, but this may give you an idea of what could have happened, although likely less than the 0.15 in your case.

Anonymous said...

My brother passed away and was found about 5 hours after he had “collapsed” and fell 6 feet off of a train platform head/face first. The premilinary cause of death was trauma. After the full autopsy, the COD was ruled alcohol and hydrocodone intoxication. The only trauma/injury was compound fractures of his mandible. His toxicology report read
Blood Heart- Ethanol .23%
Blood Femoral- Ethanol .26%
Urine-Ethanol .33%
Vitreous- Ethanol .30%

Urine was positive for Cyclobenzaprine, Hydrocodone and Acetaminophen

Blood Heart was negative for Cyclobenzaprine and Acetaminophen but was positive for Hyrdocodone (<0.05 mg/L)

My questions are
-Was the amount of alcohol and hydrocodone in his system enough to be fatal?
-Which BAC would be the most accurate?
-The autopsy report also stated the pulmonary parenchyma was purple and edematous, exuding moderate amounts of blood and frothy fluid. Would this be indicative of an overdose or was this from the trauma to his mouth and breathing in blood after the injury occurred? We were never told whether he was alive after the fall or if he died before he hit the ground. Is there any way to know this? Would he have likely been too intoxicated to feel the pain from the fall? How long after a collapse would it take for a person to die with these levels?
-If the Cyclobenzaprine and Acetaminophen was found in the urine but not in the blood, do you have any idea how long before death it was possibly taken?
-Was the amount of Hydrocodone found in the Blood a normal/average dose?
-The autopsy was performed the day after he was found, would the toxicology amounts be fairly accurate with what they would’ve been at the time of death?

Dr. Richard Keller said...

My condolences

Based on this information, it very likely that your brother did die as a result of the synergistic effect of the combination of the alcohol and hydrocodone in his system.

The BAC in his heart blood blood would be most "accurate", although the vitreous level tells us how much was in and around his brain.

The pulmonary changes on autopsy are classic for findings after death due to respiratory and cardiac depressants, like alcohol and hydrocodone. With his heart and lungs no longer working effectively, fluid and blood "backs up" into the lungs. This makes it very likely that he passed out because of failing blood pressure and ventilation, causing him to fall off the platform. He would not have been aware of the fall or any pain that might have resulted from the fall.

Clearance of acetaminophen and cyclobezaprine from the blood is too inconsistent to be used to predict time from ingestion to death.

The hydrocodone level is not itself a lethal level, although likely was higher at some point. It was the combination that caused his death.

The time frame you describe would still give you fairly accurate results of all his lab testing.

Anonymous said...

I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions. It’s really tough not having all of the information to piece together exactly what happened to him. When he collapsed from the failing blood pressure and ventilation would that have likely been when he actually died or would he have just been unconscious but still alive? I don’t know much about this type of death so I’m struggling with trying to figure out exactly what he went through. Is there any way that the medical examiner would be able to give an actual time of death? I cannot thank you enough for your input. I really can’t. Your explanations were so helpful.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

It would seem most likely to me, in view of the significant autopsy lung findings, that when he was collapsing he was collapsing in death.

Realize that time of death is always an approximation, I doubt the medical examiner could be much more specific.

I'm glad my answers have been of some help to you.

Joanna Robinson said...

Hi the toxicologist is saying in his report that the results represent alcohol consumption not fermentation . Bloods taken on day 6 after death. They are saying as his body was stored correctly, although not until at least seven hours after death that elevated BAC would be due to alcohol consumption. I would appreciate your view , many thanks

Joanna Robinson said...

Could there be a possibility that the results of the BAC likely to still be falsely elevated if the body was stored correctly , but only after at least seven hours , No other samples were analysed for any validation either , thank you

Joanna Robinson said...

Could I also ask please if the blood was taken on the 6 th day after death but then not analysed until 3 weeks later at the lab could this also have an impact on the BAC , many thanks

Joanna Robinson said...

Hi , I would like to know if elevated BAC levels taken 5 days after death, where the body was not stored in lower temperatures until at least several hours after death on a warm May with no other samples tested for BAC could stand up in court as being accurate in that the person was over the drink drive limit ? The report also states after the initial analysis on three different dates the sample was insufficient to carry out further tests Also the blood was not analysed by the toxicologist until 3 weeks after the blood sample was taken . Many thanks

Dr. Richard Keller said...

Ms Robinson

Because alcohol is a volatile substance, no matter how the body was stored, a level drawn on post-mortem day 5 or 6 would be of questionable accuracy. It could have increased with decomposition or decreased volatilizing from the body.

The fact that the specimen "was of insufficient size" for other testing and the fact that the testing was run 3 weeks after drawn would also call result accuracy into question.

The BAC would be quite questionable in this 'messy' situation.

Joanna Robinson said...

Thank you for your response I really appreciate your feedback . The whole investigation is “messy” unfortunately , with no attention to detail or accuracy, thank you again

Anonymous said...

Please help, I'm really confused. My cousin passed away in november of 2017 and we just got back the medical examiners report and toxicology report. The cause of death is listed as accident. The toxicology report revealed that he had 25.7 mcg/L of fentanyl in his blood. His urine revealed he had 0.064 mg/L of codeine, 1.176 mg/L of morphine, and 0.240 mg/L of 6-mono-acetyl-morphine in his system. He was an active heroin user, so none of this came as a huge surprise, but my question is was this an overdose or did he die because of the fentanyl? From the research that I've done it doesn't seem that 25mcg of fentayl is lethal, but perhaps I'm mistaken. Also, I'm fairly certain he passed away the night before and wasn't taken by the coroner's office until approximately 12 hours later. Could this be a reason the levels are lower? I'm so confused.

Dr. Richard Keller said...

It would appear that your cousin died from a combination of fentanyl and heroin (the latter evidenced by the 6 mono-acetyl-morphine). Fentanyl can kill with what might appear to be low levels, particularly in combination with other drugs with similar lethality effects. Both these drugs cause respiratory and cardiac depression as their pathway to death. When you combine 2 drugs with similar profiles it is not 1+1=2, it's 1+1=all bets are off on lethal vs. "safe", multiplicative not additive.

My condolences

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your response. You helped clarify some things for me and I really appreciate it.

shaun hooper said...

My mom died 16 years ago. There was no autopsy or toxicology report done but my sister wants to exhume the body to see if she was poisoned. Would they still be able to find it in her after that many years being deceased

Dr. Richard Keller said...

The short answer is no.

There would be nothing to test, no way to find the usual poison suspects: No urine, no blood, no vitreous, no liver. Only skeletal remains.