Forensic toxicology

  • Olaf H. Drummer
Part of the Experientia Supplementum book series (EXS, volume 100)


Forensic toxicology has developed as a forensic science in recent years and is now widely used to assist in death investigations, in civil and criminal matters involving drug use, in drugs of abuse testing in correctional settings and custodial medicine, in road and work-place safety, in matters involving environmental pollution, as well as in sports doping. Drugs most commonly targeted include amphetamines, benzodiazepines, cannabis, cocaine and the opiates, but can be any other illicit substance or almost any over-the-counter or prescribed drug, as well as poisons available to the community. The discripline requires high level skills in analytical techniques with a solid knowledge of pharmacology and pharmacokinetics. Modern techniques rely heavily on immunoassay screening analyses and mass spectrometry (MS) for confirmatory analyses using either high-performance liquid chromatography or gas chromatography as the separation technique. Tandem MS has become more and more popular compared to single-stage MS. It is essential that analytical systems are fully validated and fit for the purpose and the assay batches are monitored with quality controls. External proficiency programs monitor both the assay and the personnel performing the work. For a laboratory to perform optimally, it is vital that the circumstances and context of the case are known and the laboratory understands the limitations of the analytical systems used including drug stability. Drugs and poisons can change concentration postmortem due to poor or unequal quality of blood and other specimens, anaerobic metabolism and redistribution. The latter provides the largest handicap in the interpretation of postmortem results.


Oral Fluid Vitreous Humor Forensic Toxicology Death Investigation External Quality Assessment Scheme 
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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag/Switzerland 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Olaf H. Drummer
    • 1
  1. 1.Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, Department of Forensic MedicineMonash UniversitySouthbankAustralia

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