Examiners in the Toxicology Section analyze body fluids and tissues for the presence and concentrations of alcohol, drugs, and other potential poisons. Support is provided to Medical Examiners to assist in determining cause and manner of death, and to law enforcement agencies investigating crimes where drug or alcohol use may be implicated.
Specifically, we work with:
- Medical Examiner Cases
The Toxicology Section aids the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner by analyzing human fluids and tissues for alcohol, drugs and other potential poisons, such as carbon monoxide. The types of samples typically submitted for analysis are blood, urine, vitreous humor, bile, stomach contents and liver. By identifying and measuring the concentrations of alcohol and drugs in the body, toxicologists can advise Medical Examiners and trial courts on the significance of a substance in causing or contributing to a death. Death investigation cases may range from fatal overdoses, to alcohol/drug-related traffic deaths, to drug-related homicides.
- Driving Under the Influence (DUI/DUID)
The Toxicology Section receives all blood samples taken by law enforcement agencies during DUI/DUID investigations to determine alcohol and drug content. After alcohol, the most frequently detected drugs are marijuana, prescription pain relievers (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin), benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax, Valium, Klonopin), cocaine and zolpidem (Ambien, Intermezzo). While statutory limits exist for alcohol, PCP, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA (ecstasy) in blood, none are set for other drugs. Consequently, expert toxicology testimony regarding the effects of a drug or a combination of drugs on human performance and driving behavior is often necessary to establish impairment.
- Non-Implied Consent Cases
Law enforcement agencies also submit blood, urine or other body fluids from suspects or victims of other crimes. Examples of these situations include drug-facilitated sexual assault, DUI/D investigations not pursuant to the implied consent statute, and child abuse or endangerment.
- Alcoholic Beverage Testing
The Central Toxicology Section in Richmond also tests suspected alcoholic beverages submitted by law enforcement agencies. Most of these cases involve the investigation of minors in possession of alcohol, open intoxicants in vehicles and illegal sale/distribution of alcohol. These types of cases require the analysis of alcohol content. Any beverage containing greater than or equal to 0.5% ethanol is defined as an alcoholic beverage (Code of Virginia § 4.1-100).