Q: Why does it take 6-8 weeks for toxicology results to be made public from an autopsy? Is it a matter of the volume of requests, or something else?
—Harold Joseph, Fayetteville
A: The time it takes for autopsy results to be released can vary because of the amount of specimens that are tested, extra tests if evidence is uncovered, confirmation of tests and backlogs at labs, Dr. Barbarajean Magnani, chairwoman and pathologist in chief of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, told WebMD. “I am sure there are TV shows where they squirt blood into a machine and 5 seconds later, they get a printout of every drug the person has ever taken. (But) it just doesn’t work like that,” Dr. Andrew Baker, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, told Reuters. Blood, urine and tissue samples are collected from various parts of the body at the autopsy. This includes taking blood from the heart and the femoral vein in the leg. Tissue samples from the liver, brain, kidney and vitreous humor from the eyeball chamber, in addition to stomach contents and bile, which is secreted by the liver, are also taken, the article stated. Magnani told WebMD that a basic drug screen, which tests for opiates, amphetamines, marijuana, alcohol and barbiturates, is done. More specific tests, such as mass spectrometry, can detect the quantity and concentration of drugs. “Some of the tests take days, weeks, months,” Dr. Alan Hall, a toxicologist, told WebMD.
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