Lights! Camera! Science!

Over the last decade or so, “CSI” has become synonymous with forensic science. The popular television series “Crime Scene Investigation”, which debuted in October 2000, has generated significant interest about the science behind crime-solving. One such area is forensic toxicology, or the ability to identify the presence foreign substances. Continue reading

Should You Use Fake Urine to Pass a Drug Test?

The use of fake urine to hide drug use has been a constant issue for drug testing programs in various fields. There are many kits available today, with some including salts, creatinine, and coloring dye to make them more realistic. Some even come with temperature strips to ensure that the sample matches body temperature. Tubing may even be provided to give testers the illusion that the sample is coming from the body. Continue reading

Forensic Toxicologists and DUI Cases

Alcohol intoxication often leads to accidents as it impairs vision, reduces reaction time, and causes drowsiness in the driver. According to the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Prevention, almost 25,000 alcohol-related traffic injuries were recorded in 2010 alone; aside from this, the support group Mothers Against Drunk Driving estimates that one person is injured in a drunk driving incident every 90 seconds.

Unfortunately, drunk driving cases aren’t always cut and dry. While the arresting officer can conduct field sobriety tests, defendants can argue that they failed due to physical impairments they may have or because of confusing instructions. Aside from this, they can also challenge the validity of Breathalyzer results on grounds of improper calibration and accuracy.

To help determine culpability, courts often hire the services of a trusted forensic toxicologistto serve as expert witness. The toxicologist comprehensively reviews all evidences pertaining to a case—including sobriety test and Breathalyzer results—to determine if the defendant was indeed intoxicated when the incident occurred. The findings are then presented as a testimony that will hopefully guide the jury towards a decision. Since numbers and solid, scientific facts don’t lie, the findings of the toxicologist usually trumps subjectivity and groundless claims.

Forensic Toxicology: Bits of Its History

Forensic toxicology is the practice of applying toxicology in relation to the law. The study of toxic substances and poisons began in the early 1800s, but different kinds of poisons have already been existing for thousands of years. In fact, research on ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations has proved that poisoning was already practiced during the time, often with the use of herbs and certain plants.

M.J.B. Orfila, Chairman of the Legal Medicine Department at Sorbonne in France, was the first to make an attempt to study and categorize poisons in 1814. Then in 1851, Jean Servais Stas has developed the first method to effectively extract alkaloids from biological specimens. This method was modified by F.J. Otto a couple of years later, and was later called the Stas-Otto method, which is still used as the basis for drug extraction to this day.

However, forensic toxicology became known in the US only in the beginning of the 20th century through Charles Morris who replaced the coroner system to a medical examiner system in New York. Alexander Gettler, the very first forensic toxicologist in the US, directed a laboratory in the Medical Examiner’s Office for 41 years.

It was because of the popularity of alcohol that an analytical method, which was used to study the pharmacokinetics of the said substance, was developed by Maurice Nicloux and Erik Widmark. They developed a formula that related the body weight, blood alcohol concentration, and the amount of alcohol consumed.