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What Is Forensic Toxicology, and What Does it Test?

Jul 5, 2022

The effects of different drugs vary widely, from therapeutic to mind-altering to lethal. The more dangerous substances sometimes play a role in tragic accidents and heinous crimes. For instance, a person may cause a car accident by driving drunk, or someone might deliberately give someone a poisonous drug. Gain a more thorough understanding of forensic toxicology and what purposes drug testing serves from TOPLAB®.

What Do Forensic Toxicologists Do?

Forensic toxicologists assess biological samples to detect drugs and other contaminants. If results are positive, they compare the amount of the substance to the safe dosage to determine if the affected person has unhealthy levels of the drugs in their system. This information guides law enforcement officers in establishing the cause of death for a victim or deciding if a suspect was impaired when the crime occurred.

After gathering as much data as possible from the crime scene or mortuary, forensic toxicologists utilize various procedures to isolate, identify, and calculate the number of drugs and substances in each sample. These professionals also weigh the factors that affect toxicology outcomes, such as age, tolerance, drug interactions, and post-mortem redistribution.

What Does Forensic Toxicology Cover?

Unlike other drug screenings, forensic toxicology is less concerned with whether a person used certain substances and is instead more interested in how the drug affected them. In other words, this type of testing seeks to know if the number of chemicals in the body were enough to cause an adverse reaction, such as death. Therefore, forensic technologists may be more meticulous with their investigation and collect multiple samples from different sources in the body, including:

  • Blood: One of the most valuable samples for forensic toxicology, blood indicates if a suspect was under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or other substances at the time of testing.
  • Urine: Drugs typically remain in the urine longer due to slower metabolization. Forensic toxicologists often rely on urine samples as the strongest evidence of past drug use.
  • Liver: Another area that absorbs alcohol and drugs is the liver. Toxicologists may examine the hepatobiliary systemto glean information about substance use. This system comprises the spleen, gallbladder, and bile ducts.
  • Gastrointestinal tract: Toxins not yet digested linger in this part of the body. Forensic toxicology regularly includes a post-mortem evaluation of the elements found in the gastrointestinal tract as these contents may reveal the cause of death.
  • Hair: Forensic toxicology looks at hair to figure out the length and date of exposure to specific drugs. Metabolites in the follicles transfer into growing hair, enabling toxicologists to detect contaminants.
  • Vitreous humor: This gelatinous substance rests within the eye and stays stable for months after death. Many toxicologists have looked at the vitreous humor to see if a deceased person used drugs.

How Do Forensic Toxicologists Test Samples?

Before toxicologists decide which techniques they should use to test the samples, they will perform several initial screenings to see if the person has specific toxins in their body. These examinations will indicate if further tests are necessary.

One of the most common methods for analyzing these samples is gas-liquid chromatography since it separates multiple compounds within a sample. Toxicologists sometimes use gas-liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to find and quantify compounds appearing in a low concentration.

Acquire Reliable Toxicology Services from TOPLAB®

Whether they’re looking into fatal accidents or murder scenes, forensic toxicologists need accurate results to aid in the investigation properly. Law enforcement officers, physicians, and employers in New Jersey and nationwide can rely on TOPLAB® to deliver reliable outcomes for urine drug screening. Our full-service laboratory offers fast turnaround times and caters to the unique needs of every client. Additionally, TOPLAB® performs oral fluid toxicology tests, which is a service few other labs can.

Contact us today to learn more about forensic toxicology screenings and the other lab services we offer.