INTRODUCTION: In the field of forensic toxicology, many unexpected deaths are investigated as to whether toxicological substances may have caused or contributed to someone's death. One of the factors that makes interpretation of the results of quantitative analysis in postmortem toxicology challenging, is that measured postmortem drugs levels may vary according to the sampling site and the interval between death and specimen collection. These site- and time-dependent variations are caused by 'postmortem redistribution' (PMR). Literature shows that there are several factors that determine the degree of PMR, such as cell and tissue changes after death, decomposition and the physicochemical characteristics of drugs. Blood from peripheral sites seems to be less affected by PMR than cardiac blood. Therefore, the ratio of cardiac blood concentration/peripheral blood concentration (C/P) of a drug is often used as a marker of the extent of postmortem redistribution. In this study, we investigated the relationship between different potentially important variables and the C/P ratio of morphine in humans in order to provide new insights that might assist in the interpretation of quantitative results in forensic casework.
METHOD: Toxicological results of all morphine positive postmortem cases investigated by the Netherlands Forensic Institute between January 1, 2010 and July 31, 2020 were reviewed. Morphine was quantified in both femoral and cardiac blood in a total of 103 cases. The C/P ratios were determined for all selected cases. To collect data for this study, all corresponding files were reviewed. C/P ratios were compared between subgroups by performing either a Mann-Whitney U test or a Kruskal-Wallis test, followed by a post-hoc Mann-Whitney U test. Bonferroni correction was performed to correct for the likelihood of a significant result by chance due to multiple testing. After Bonferroni correction, a p-value< 0.004 was considered statistically significant.
RESULTS: The data suggests a relationship between grade of decomposition at autopsy, position of the corpse at discovery, route of administration, attempted resuscitation and the C/P ratio of morphine with p-values of 0.010, 0.026, 0.035 and 0.046, respectively.
CONCLUSION: Grade of decomposition at autopsy, position of the corpse at discovery, route of administration and attempted resuscitation seem to be influencing the C/P ratio of morphine. Of these four variables, the route of administration seems to have the greatest impact.