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The toxicology section analyses blood and tissue samples in cases of unexplained death (coronial toxicology), driving offences or criminal offences committed whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs (human performance toxicology).

Coronial toxicology

The forensic toxicology group assists the forensic pathologist and the state Coroner towards the investigation of the cause of death. Post mortem samples are collected at autopsy and submitted to the toxicology laboratory for testing. Typical samples collected include blood, urine, liver tissue and stomach contents.

A comprehensive drug screen is performed in these cases that cover a wide range of both prescription type drugs and illicit drugs.The most obvious use for coronial toxicology testing is in suspected drug intoxication cases. These deaths are not readily diagnosed at autopsy. In other cases the cause of death may be clear but coronial toxicology is important to demonstrate the person’s state of mind just prior to death. For example, was the person under the influence of drugs or was the person taking their medication?

The assistance of forensic toxicology in workplace deaths is also important. The toxicological findings may establish that a fatal accident was the result of the worker being under the influence of alcohol or drugs thus affecting their judgement and reducing their reaction time.

Video: working in forensic toxicology

Human performance toxicology

This toxicological service deals with the analysis of biological samples (blood, urine and saliva) taken from living people and is divided into two areas:

  • criminal toxicology 
  • drugs in driving.

Criminal toxicology refers to the serious crimes of homicides, assaults and sexual assault. Blood and urine samples are taken from the suspect or victim to examine the possibility of drug use playing a part in the incident.

Drugs in driving is an extensive drug testing service (in blood and saliva) and blood alcohol service that is provided to police and the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure. The service is an important aspect of improving road safety in South Australia in deterring drug use by drivers. The samples received by the forensic toxicology group include those obtained through random roadside alcohol and drug testing, drivers suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs and drivers injured in accidents.