The Science of Forensic Toxicology
By: Scott Alexander
What is Forensic Toxicology
Forensic Toxicology is a scientific discipline that examines the affects drugs and chemicals have on the
body. This scientific area is the examination and study of toxins on the human body. This includes how a
toxin acts when in an additional substance, how the toxin acts when introduced into the human body, at
what stage the harmful effects of the toxin may occur, as well as symptoms and treatments for
poisonings by toxins. Forensic toxicology reports are used in both medical and legal investigations. These
reports provide information that includes cause of death and the identification of the drug or poison
used that caused adverse effects within the patient’s body.
What Does a Forensic Toxicologist Do
A forensic toxicologist is a scientist that performs an array of tests on human tissue samples and body
fluids. These tests determine if any chemicals or foreign drugs are in the human body. Forensic
toxicologists identify substances that include illegal drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol, poison, metal,
chemicals, and gasses. Forensic toxicologists are called upon to conduct testing for a variety of reasons,
which can include employee drug testing, contamination of environmental areas, crime investigations,
and the presence of steroids and date rape drugs.
Where do Forensic Toxicologists Work
This scientific arena has career opportunities in both the legal and medical industries. In the medical
field, a forensic toxicologist ensures the safety of food and drugs through various government sponsored
agencies. In the legal field, forensic toxicologists work with crime scene investigators and provide
information about the various chemicals and drugs used during the crime. This information is vital in
determining the outcome of the case and oftentimes a forensic toxicologist may have to testify in court.
How does a Forensic Toxicologist Detect and Classify Drugs and Toxins
A variety of methods and tests are employed by forensic toxicologists depending upon the type of
information desired and the type of drug expected to be found. The majority of tests used to detect
prescription drugs and legal drugs are the same and they include gas-liquid chromatography,
immunoassay, thin-layer chromatography, and high pressure liquid chromatography. Some tests for
illegal drugs that include marijuana, opiates, cocaine, amphetamines, and spot tests require blood or
hair to be tested with a reagent solution. Test results that will be reported in legal courts or for criminal
investigations must be conducted in duplicate to ensure the results are valid.
Forensic toxicology is an intricate scientific discipline that leads to a large amount of information. This
information can be used medically, to help determine appropriate actions to correct adverse symptoms,
as well as in a court of law to help convict a criminal.