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  • Analytic toxicology involves the application of the tools of analytic chemistry to the qualitative and/or quantitative estimation of chemicals that may exert adverse effects on living organisms.
  • Forensic toxicology involves the use of toxicology for the purposes of the law; by far the most common application is to identify any chemical that may serve as a causative agent in inflicting death or injury on humans or in causing damage to property.
  • The toxicologic investigation of a poison death involves (1) obtaining the case history in as much detail as possible and gathering suitable specimens, (2) conducting suitable toxicologic analyses based on the available specimens, and (3) the interpretation of the analytic findings.
  • The toxicologist as an expert witness may provide two objectives: testimony and opinion. Objective testimony usually involves a description of analytic methods and findings. When a toxicologist testifies as to the interpretation of analytic results, that toxicologist is offering an “opinion.”

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Analytic toxicology applies the tools of analytic chemistry to the qualitative and/or quantitative estimation of chemicals that may exert adverse effects on living organisms. Forensic toxicology involves the use of toxicology for the purposes of the law; by far the most common application is to identify any chemical that may serve as a causative agent in inflicting death or injury on humans or in causing damage to property. A systematic approach, a reliance on the practical experience of generations of forensic toxicologists, and use of the sophisticated tools of analytic chemistry provide the data needed to understand better the hazards of toxic substances.

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In 1873 in his Elements de Toxicologie, Chapuis described a system of classifying toxic agents by their origin or nature into several categories: gases, volatile substances, corrosive agents, metals, anions and nonmetals, nonvolatile organic substances, and miscellaneous. Closely related to this descriptive classification is the method for separating a toxic agent from the matrix in which it is embedded. The agent of interest may exist in a matrix of a simple solution or may be bound to protein and other cellular constituents; before analysis can be done, the agent must be isolated.

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The duties of a forensic toxicologist in postmortem investigations include the qualitative and quantitative analyses of drugs or poisons in biological specimens collected at autopsy and the interpretation of the analytic findings in regard to the physiologic and behavioral effects of the detected chemicals on the deceased at the time of death.

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Establishing the cause of death rests with the medical examiner, coroner, or pathologist, but success in arriving at the correct conclusion often depends on the combined efforts of the pathologist and the toxicologist. The cause of death in cases of poisoning cannot be proved beyond contention without a toxicologic analysis that establishes the presence of the toxicant in the tissues and body fluids of the deceased. Additionally, a toxicologist can furnish valuable evidence concerning the circumstances surrounding a death. Such cases commonly involve demonstrating the ...

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