Toxicologic findings in suicide: a 10-year retrospective review of Kentucky medical examiner cases

Lisa B E Shields, Donna M Hunsaker, John C Hunsaker, Michael K Ward
American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology 2006, 27 (2): 106-12
Toxicologic analysis is an integral component in the investigation of suicide and requires correlation with a detailed scene inspection, with an extensive exploration into the decedent's medical and social background to uncover suicidal ideation or intent and a postmortem examination of the body. In this review, the authors analyzed 2864 cases classified as suicide upon autopsy and toxicologic examinations between 1993 and 2002 in the Kentucky Division of Medical Examiner's Services. Blood and urine were collected in 95.0% and 72.3% of cases, respectively. A total of 32.5% of the victims had negative blood toxicologic results, and 52.7% of urine toxicology screens yielded no drugs. Analysis of the data indicated that 3 times as many women had taken antidepressants and more than twice as many had consumed opioids. Drug toxicity ("overdose") ranked as the third (9.9%) leading cause of suicide after firearm injury (67.5%) and hanging (13.7%). Women succumbed to drug toxicity more than men (27.5% versus 5.9%). Of the overdose deaths, 66.5% had a negative blood alcohol concentration (BAC), while antidepressants, opioids, and benzodiazepines were detected in blood in 54.4%, 37.4%, and 29.2% of the subjects, respectively. The collection of these data serves the goals of public health and clinicians in devising strategies for suicide prevention.

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