Toxicological analyses are often performed in drug-facilitated sexual assaults (DFSA), when the victim shows or reports impaired consciousness and reduced ability. However, in other crimes or fatalities, especially in cases of concurrent natural disease or when another likely cause of death has been established, the involvement of drugs can be overlooked. The aim of this study is to report a series of cases of (i) victims of drug-facilitated crimes (DFC) other than DFSA and (ii) victims of acute intoxications, in which “licit” psychoactive drugs were found in blood samples, with the aim of understanding in which circumstances and to what extent prescription drugs have been used for non-medical purposes in recent Italian casuistry. Circumstantial, autopsy, and toxicological data were collected through a retrospective analysis performed between 2013 and 2017 in the Forensic Toxicology Unit of the University of Bologna. Cases of “DFC other than DFSA” and “Acute Intoxication” in which “psychoactive drugs” or “prescription drugs” or “licit drugs” were found in the blood samples of the victims were included in the study. Nine cases of DFC other than DFSA, and 11 cases of acute intoxication, were identified. Different categories of “licit” psychoactive drugs (e.g. hypnotics, antipsychotics, antidepressants, anticonvulsants) had been used to facilitate diverse types of crime (homicide, robberies, elder abuse, fatal poisoning) or acute intoxication (suicide, attempted suicide, accidental death). The circumstances of these cases, as well as toxicological findings in blood samples and other relevant forensic elements, are reported, summarized and discussed in this paper. The non-medical use of pharmaceuticals has been identified by recent forensic literature and the present study as a significant and growing phenomenon, and its implication in fatalities should be taken into consideration and accurately investigated through appropriate toxicological analysis. Our study presents an overview of the circumstances of non-medical use of prescription drugs, usually considered “safe drugs”, and their involvement in cases of DFC, suicides and accidental intoxication. In order to estimate the real incidence of these medications in DFC and acute intoxication, and thus collect more analytical and contextual data, further studies are needed, along with effective cooperation among police officers, clinicians, forensic pathologists, and toxicologists.
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The authors would like to express their thanks to Dr. Thomas Dewis for language editing and corrections and to Dr. Rossella Barone for the assistance in the revision process.
This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The Author(s) declare(s) that there is no conflict of interest.
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