(CNN)We might not know what killed pop superstar Prince for weeks or even months. And while forensic science-themed TV shows make it look quick and easy, and the technology has improved, modern death investigations take time.
If the tests come out positive for a drug, the lab runs further tests to make a definitive determination as to whether that particular drug caused the person’s death.
If someone were taking an opiate, for instance, these tests can determine exactly what kind and possibly how much. If the person were using something like fentanyl,
a powerful synthetic opiate that has increased in popularity and has been linked to a growing number of deaths, it can be “an enormous challenge for the toxicology lab” because it comes in a variety of formulations, Goldberger said. The initial lab might need to send it to a specialist, taking even more time.
If you’ve ever had to pass a drug test to get a job, you know that a lab can quickly figure out whether you’ve been using drugs by testing your urine. With a dead person, urine might not always be available. Even if it is, urine might not always tell a scientist what was going on at the exact time of death or at the time it was collected, since it takes time for the body to eliminate drugs through urine.
Scientists might examine liver samples since that organ helps your body metabolize most drugs and other substances, such as alcohol. Even if a toxicologist can’t find the drug in a person’s blood, it may turn up in the liver.
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Scientists might look at stomach contents to see whether a person recently ingested a drug; undigested pills could still be in their system. They might test the vitreous humor, the clear substance in eyes, for drugs or alcohol. Drugs can also show up in hair and nail samples.
“I know sometimes families are anxious for results, because they are waiting for death benefits or for peace of mind, but this process is a legal, multifaceted process,” Goldberger said. “You want results that can be relied on and be as definitive as possible.”
Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/26/health/prince-death-autopsy-medical-examination/index.html