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.

Medicolegal Death


The CFSRE conducts extensive research in conjunction with medical examiner and coroner offices, as well as other drug testing laboratories, involving various aspects associated with medicolegal death investigation. Postmortem toxicology testing involving drugs and other toxins remains a large area of work for forensic toxicologists who are often called upon to deliver and interpret analytical findings. Forensic toxicologists are tasked with relaying this information to pathologists and death investigators for correlation with assessment of cause and manner of death, and sometimes to a judge or jury in a court of law when aspects surrounding drug-related death arise (e.g. drug delivery resulting in death). However, a toxicologist’s interpretation is often based on the results and conclusions from peer-reviewed literature and publications. Understanding the impacts of drugs on biological systems (e.g. humans) requires 1) advanced analytical research to confirm the substance(s) present in various biological matrices, 2) comparative and quantitative data for case review in collaboration with postmortem examinations, and 3) surveying of the drug landscape as drug trends and combinations change or evolve.

A staple in the CFSRE medicolegal death investigation research program is our commitment to comprehensive analytical testing in postmortem scenarios, often including testing for a large number of novel psychoactive substances (NPS), using state-of-the-art instrumentation and analytical techniques. Our research efforts include the development and validation of quantitative testing protocols to help expand knowledge on drugs detected after death. In addition, evaluations regarding drug stability, postmortem redistribution, and other aspects necessary for interpretative matters are commonly conducted.



  • Medicolegal death investigation research expands upon the information known about drugs and their involvement in drug-related deaths.
  • Forensic toxicologists rely on postmortem studies for comparative purposes when evaluating case information and findings, and subsequently for interpretation of results.
  • Quantitative testing for drugs in medicolegal death investigations provides a frame of references when determining the concentration at which a drug may become lethal and/or its involvement in other physiological processes discovered at autopsy.
  • NPS, specifically synthetic opioids and synthetic cannabinoids, are commonly found in postmortem casework and can go undetected if proper drug testing assays are not employed.



Methods developed at the CFSRE have been successfully implemented for the detection of drugs in authentic postmortem casework samples. Peer-reviewed literature from our research program is used by forensic toxicologist when writing expert opinions and testifying. The outcomes of our research program continue to positively impact the field of forensic toxicology, both analytically and interpretively.

Lab typing


The CFSRE develops informative open-access resources to contribute to the scientific community, including scientific reports or publications and training or educational materials.

Do you want to become a Medical Examiner?

The National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME): So You Want to be a Medical Detective?

Becoming a Forensic Pathologist: The Stories of People Who Have Done It

Becoming a Forensic Pathologist, The Story Continues…

Dr. Odette Hall, Suffolk County Medical Examiner – Interview


Peer reviewed publications