Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Forensic Toxicology Testing for Medicolegal Death Investigation Workshop

September 14, 2016 in Gaithersburg, MD

NIST, National Institute of Justice, and National Center for Health Statistics recently sponsored a workshop to study and identify approaches to advance forensic toxicology for medicolegal death investigation.

Medical examiner and coroner offices (ME/C’s) serve a fundamental role in ensuring justice by contributing to the investigation of violent, suspicious, and unexplained deaths. They facilitate a crucial responsibility in support of global health security by protecting public health and safety and combating emerging threats as well as serving the public good by providing information to a decedent’s family members about a person’s cause of death. ME/C’s investigate all drug overdose deaths--which includes scene investigation, autopsy, toxicology and other tests--to determine the cause and manner of all sudden deaths. Forensic toxicologists assist medical examiners in assessing the cause of death through analytical testing for evidence of drug or poison exposure.  

The workshop covered how differences in the administration of toxicological testing, including when and how the testing is performed, the analytes that are specifically tested for, and the interpretation of the test results, all contribute to variation in how the manner and cause of death is declared. Workshop discussion brought in opportunities for training and sharing of best practices to help address some of the noted variability in testing. Additionally, attendees discussed successful investments in technological capabilities (i.e., advancing laboratory techniques and improving laboratory capacity) and how labs have helped make the process more efficient, effective, and uniform for several jurisdictions. Participants also discussed the urgent need for agencies within the Federal government to obtain better data on specific drugs that are involved in prescription or illicit drug overdose deaths to develop policies and programs to prevent deaths and inform crime-solving efforts. These data were also discussed in how they are used to evaluate current prevention and regulation programs, and how these data can be shared to inform and promote the consistency and quality of death investigation within and between MDI offices.

In follow up to the workshop, attendees agreed to:

  • Continue to advance coordination efforts through existing efforts under organizations including the National Science and Technology Council, National Commission on Forensic Science and the Organization of Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science, specifically the Subcommittees on Toxicology and Medicolegal Death Investigation.
  • Continue to coordinate at a regional level by reaching out to Federal partners that can help facilitate similar discussions and to share the best practices that are occurring on a regional level
  • Continue to identify best practices for rapid identification of emerging drugs and build on best practices for coordination of death data in real-time.
  • Foster joint discussions of the MDI and toxicology scientific and research communities to rapidly identify emerging drugs and better understand drug exposure signs and symptoms.
  • Foster joint discussions of the MDI and toxicology communities to identify and inform research and technology development needs and opportunities

The stakeholder community is encouraged to initiate discussions among members of the toxicology and MDI community within your local jurisdictions and share best practices as they emerge.



Jayne Morrow,

Created November 4, 2016, Updated November 15, 2019