Our bodies hold a lot of information. Our skin can tell how old we are by the wrinkles and age spots we show. Our gray hair is a dead giveaway. Our teeth can show normal wear and tear or a life not so well lived. And all of the normal aging that a body incurs can be cosmetically hidden by makeup, hair color, plastic surgery and hair plugs.
There is one area of our bodies that we can’t spruce up so easily. The internal state of every person can read like a romance, adventure or crime novel, especially when foreign toxins are the cause of death. Given the fact that the toxicity of a person’s blood can vary due to illicit and prescription drug use, bacterial infection and purposeful or accidental poisoning, the need for forensic investigators is present more than ever.
Purpose of Forensic Toxicology
The field of forensics, regardless of the particular discipline, exists solely for the purposes to prepare for litigation and court. Forensics is a Latin word that refers to preparation for court. When a forensic investigation of any body fluid, hair or tissue is performed it typically is analyzed for particular things like DNA, blood type, fingerprinting and toxicity.
Forensic toxicologists seek to find the type of substances that are present within an individual, the amount of the substance and its effect on their mortality. Investigators prepare reports for prosecutors full of the information necessary for a conviction.
They also make determinations as to whether a substance was the potential cause of death or homicide. Often times, toxicology reports are used for finding the driver of a vehicle guilty or innocent in a case involving a driving while intoxicated charge.
History of Forensic Toxicology
Over time, every discipline within the field of forensics changes and evolves according to technology and advancements. Within the fields of chemistry and biology alone, there have been multiple advancements with new drugs, leading scientists to change the way they test for toxins. Add all of the advancements in technology, it has remained an ever advancing field.
Originally only blood and urine were able to be tested in toxicology crime labs. With the development of a few recently introduced instruments, scientists now have the ability to test hair and oral fluids.
Science Behind Forensic Toxicology
When a toxicology lab receives evidence to be tested from the scene of a crime, it could be any number of items. There can be bodily fluids collected, hair and tissue samples along with pill bottles, powders, drugs, and a plethora of chemicals.
Because a human body is often still in the process of metabolizing the chemical, it is often more difficult to make a determination. It is typical for a forensic toxicologist to take into account things beyond bodily fluids like injection site marks. For illicit and prescription drug investigations, complications arise with each drug. An experience toxicologist will understand and know that each individual drug has its own half-life.
An investigator will often test hair samples, finding a long history of several potential months of drug use. The contents of a decedent’s body may also be reviewed in efforts to find undisclosed and digested pills or drugs.
Forensic toxicology has a very defined place in the criminal justice system. Toxicology tests can reveal the truth, exonerating the innocent or give the guilty a nasty case of test anxiety. It’s all in the science.