The forensic toxicology research conducted at the CFSRE focuses on effects and adverse events associated with the use of drugs and alcohol. Three main areas of research include drug impaired driving, medicolegal death investigations, and clinical overdose scenarios. A large portion of our research programs involve the toxicology and chemistry of novel psychoactive substances (NPS). Additional research aspects focus on analytical and interpretative challenges associated with forensic toxicology.
The CFSRE is engaged in collaborations with public health and public safety agencies for the rapid identification of emerging drugs (i.e. NPS) associated with intoxications and adverse events. Publications, reports, and resources are consolidated here for open-access viewing designed to facilitate rapid dissemination and information sharing with stakeholders and effected communities.
Drug impaired driving continues to increase in the United States, creating severe public safety concerns. Currently, there is no mandated approach for the analysis of cases from driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) investigations despite calls for standardization and improved practices. In collaboration with law enforcement and forensic laboratories, the CFSRE monitors epidemiological aspects of drugs in DUID cases which can lead to the development of evidence-based public policy.
Drug related deaths in the United States continue to increase, especially those involving synthetic opioids. Understanding of drug-involved death can be complex, requiring collaboration between forensic toxicologists, medical examiners or coroners, and death scene investigators. The CFSRE focuses on development of assays for the detection and quantification of drugs in postmortem biological matrices, as well as interpretation of the results.
Drug facilitated crimes (DFC) occur when an individual violates aspects of the law while under the influence of drugs. Examples of crimes can include robbery, sexual assault, money extortion or battery. Biological samples collected after drug facilitated sexual assault (DFSA) require comprehensive toxicology testing to determine the drug or drugs present. Unique factors and considerations include sample matrix, assay sensitivity and scope, and toxicologist interpretation.
The CFSRE specializes in non-routine toxicology testing. Examples include postmortem analysis of insulin analogs and other highly complex targets, as well as the development of niche analytical methods for rarely occurring drugs or poisons. High complexity targets are not frequently operational in routine laboratories; however, large-molecule testing is vital for determining cause of death in unique situations. The CFSRE provides assistance to medical examiners and coroners searching for ultra-esoteric toxicology testing.
Chemical threats to the safety and wellbeing of wildlife remain an understudied area of forensic toxicology. Wildlife can be poisoned by poachers through use of baited fruit, watering holes, or animal carcass, leaving behind a potential footprint to the crime. In 2016, the CFSRE received requests to develop a qualitative toxicological method for the analysis of pesticides and poisons commonly used in these scenarios. Over time, our laboratory and its collaborators have developed a network with conservation groups in South Africa and other African countries to investigate poisoning deaths of protected species and other wildlife.