Page 3 - Forensic Science
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208    Chapter 6

                                       The Role of Forensic


                                       It is no secret that in spite of the concerted efforts of law enforcement agencies to
                                       prevent distribution and sale of illicit drugs, thousands die every year from inten-
                                       tional or unintentional administration of drugs, and many more innocent lives
                                       are lost as a result of the erratic and frequently uncontrollable behavior of indi-
                                       viduals under the influence of drugs. But one should not automatically attribute
                                       these occurrences to the wide proliferation of illicit-drug markets. For example,
                                       in the United States alone, drug manufacturers produce enough sedatives and
                                       antidepressants each year to provide every man, woman, and child with about
                                       40 pills. All of the statistical and medical evidence shows ethyl alcohol, a legal
                                       over-the-counter drug, to be the most heavily abused drug in Western countries.
                                          Because the uncontrolled use of drugs has become a worldwide problem af-
              toxicologist             fecting all segments of society, the role of the toxicologist has taken on new and
              An individual whose      added significance. Toxicologists detect and identify drugs and poisons in body
              job is to detect and     fluids, tissues, and organs. Their services are required not only in such legal in-
              identify drugs and       stitutions as crime laboratories and medical examiners’ offices; they also reach
              poisons in body fluids,
              tissues, and organs      into hospital laboratories—where identifying a drug overdose may represent the
                                       difference between life and death—and into various health facilities that monitor
                                       the intake of drugs and other toxic substances. Primary examples include per-
                                       forming blood tests on children exposed to leaded paints and analyzing the urine
                                       of addicts enrolled in methadone maintenance programs.
                                          The role of the forensic toxicologist is limited to matters that pertain to viola-
                                       tions of criminal law. However, responsibility for performing toxicological servic-
                                       es in a criminal justice system varies considerably throughout the United States.
                                       In systems with a crime laboratory independent of the medical examiner, this re-
                                       sponsibility may reside with one or the other or may be shared by both. Some sys-
                                       tems, however, take advantage of the expertise of government health department
                                       laboratories and assign this role to them. Nevertheless, whatever facility handles
                                       this work, its caseload will reflect the prevailing popularity of the drugs that are
                                       abused in the community. In most cases, this means that the forensic toxicologist
                                       handles numerous requests to determine the presence of alcohol in the body.
                                          Forty percent of all traffic deaths in the United States, nearly 17,500 fatalities
                                       per year, are alcohol related, along with more than 2 million injuries each year
                                       requiring hospital treatment. This highway death toll, as well as the untold dam-
                                       age to life, limb, and property, shows the dangerous consequences of alcohol abuse
                                       (see Figure 6–1). Because of the prevalence of alcohol in the toxicologist’s work,
                                       we will begin by taking a closer look at how the body processes and responds
                                       to alcohol.
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