Forensic toxicology services have really come to the fore because of television police shows based on the forensic aspect of police investigations. What people don’t see are the long hours that staff work in order to get to the truth. They also do not always appreciate that a crime cannot take sixty minutes to solve.
The toxicology aspect of the profession uses pharmacology and chemistry to ascertain a cause of death and can cover whether someone has drugs or alcohol in their system when they died. The toxicology service has no interest in whether someone has broken the law, as their remit is to interpret the data that they gather. They usually conduct their examination depending on how wide or narrow the scope of the investigation is.
It is their job to determine which substances are present in the system and in what doses, as well as the likely effect these may have had on the individual. This is not always as straightforward as is sometimes portrayed on television. The body undergoes natural processes that can transform chemicals so that they rarely take on their natural form once ingested or injected.
Forensics have a number of ways of testing for drugs and toxins and one of those is by taking urine samples. Unlike blood, which can have diseases like HIV, urine is usually free from disease, plus it can hold chemicals for longer as they really only disperse when a person urinates.
Blood can also be used to establish the presence of toxins and narcotics. Around 10ml is usually a sufficient quantity for forensics to screen for the most popular toxic substances. Normally, the blood is used because it can provide more of an immediate indication as to what the subject was taking near the time of the test. That is often why blood alcohol levels are used to convict people who choose to drive under the influence.
Hair is often used in cases of suspected poisoning. The hair follicles can give a fairly accurate picture of medium to long-term substance abuse as toxins in the hair can provide a time-line of when the substance was ingested and in what quantity. One of the strange things about checking for substances in hair is that darker hair is more adept at retaining toxins that lighter hair, even if the same level of drugs have been used.
Other fluids from a body can be used to check for chemical substances. Gastric contents are a case in point. The stomach contents may hold clues as to how a person passed on. Generally, samples such as these would be collected from dead bodies during an autopsy.
Forensic toxicology services test for a wide variety of substances using a wide variety of bodily fluids. Their remit is to ascertain the truth behind what caused a person’s death or to give an accurate data interpretation for the police in the case of drunk drivers and other persons that may have broken the law under the influence of narcotics.
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