Why does toxicology take so long?
July 25th, 2011
05:07 PM ET

Why does toxicology take so long?

Lab tests to determine what killed singer Amy Winehouse will take  two to four weeks, according to the Scotland Yard.

Unlike television crime shows where results are instant, standard toxicology tests can require several steps, taking up to several weeks.

An autopsy completed Monday afternoon was inconclusive and investigators will need the toxicology results to determine the singer’s cause of death, according to a police statement.

Toxicology tests are used to determine whether and how much legal or illegal drugs a person has taken.   While it’s unclear what caused Winehouse’s death, her erratic behavior and drug problems were public after she reached musical stardom in 2007.

In post-mortem toxicology screenings, blood is drawn from various areas of the deceased person’s body. This initial test  indicates what type of drugs, such as opiates or amphetamines, might be present.

The secondary part is where it becomes complicated.

Drug analysis a multistep process

If the screening test indicates the person may have had opiates in his or her body, further tests are required to figure out what kind of opiates and in what amount.

“You confirm the preliminary test,” said Douglas Rohde, supervisor of chemistry and toxicology at the Lake County Crime Lab in Ohio.  “You confirm that drug is actually there. There’s not one test as seen in 'CSI.' There’s no quick test that gives you a positive identification and confirmation. The confirmatory tests can take days or weeks, if they have to be repeated.”

To confirm that a person had a type of drug in his or her body, the drug has to be separated from the blood or tissue.

The gold standard for drug identification is gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, an instrument that looks at drugs at the molecular level.  Its even more advanced version is called liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry.

“You go through and run individual tests, running a specific test to get a level of a specific drug,” said Dr. Daniel Spitz, chief medical examiner in Macomb and St. Clair Counties in Michigan.

This process could take several days depending on the types of drugs found in the body. And drugs could be present in very minute levels, in measurements like parts per million or parts per billion.  Rohde likens it to searching for five black marbles in a pile of 1 million white marbles.

In the final step, the toxicologist reviews the evidence and determines whether drugs found in the body were enough to kill an individual.   That report is submitted to the coroner or medical examiner, at least in the United States.

Cases involving Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger and Anna Nicole Smith were complicated because they had several different drugs in their bodies - some of the substances “weren’t in the regular menu in the toxicology lab,” Rohde said.

“Anytime you have a notorious person die of suspect means and they have past history of drug abuse, the toxicology report is very important,” he said.  “You don’t want to rush it.”

In a high-profile case like Winehouse's, it is most likely that the lab will run several tests to confirm its findings.

Follow @CNNHealth on Twitter

soundoff (178 Responses)
  1. Buyprivateproxy

    I'm still learning from you, while I'm trying to reach my goals. I absolutely love reading all that is written on your blog.Keep the posts coming. I liked it!


    April 9, 2021 at 08:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Daryl Broch

    Lovely site! I am loving it!! Will come back again. I am taking your feeds also.


    April 13, 2021 at 03:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. houses for sale athol id


    April 24, 2021 at 02:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. RV Countertops Los Angeles

    I really love your website.. Pleasant colors & theme. Did you build this site yourself? Please reply back as I’m hoping to create my own personal site and want to know where you got this from or what the theme is called. Cheers!


    April 24, 2021 at 02:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Forklift Maintenance

    Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Thank you, However I am having troubles with your RSS. I don’t understand the reason why I cannot subscribe to it. Is there anybody else having similar RSS problems? Anyone that knows the solution can you kindly respond? Thanks!!


    April 24, 2021 at 04:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. rv repair shops near my location

    When I initially left a comment I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now whenever a comment is added I get 4 emails with the same comment. Perhaps there is an easy method you are able to remove me from that service? Thanks!


    April 25, 2021 at 05:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. RV Body Shop Orange County

    I absolutely love your website.. Excellent colors & theme. Did you make this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as I’m trying to create my own personal website and would like to learn where you got this from or exactly what the theme is called. Thanks!


    April 25, 2021 at 05:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. vách ngăn vệ sinh

    This is a topic that's close to my heart... Best wishes!
    Where are your contact details though?

    April 25, 2021 at 08:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Best Proxies

    Some really nice stuff on this internet site, I enjoy it.


    April 26, 2021 at 22:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. houses for sale spirit lake id

    A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment. I do believe that you should write more about this issue, it may not be a taboo subject but usually folks don't speak about such subjects. To the next! Many thanks!!


    April 27, 2021 at 22:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Keratoconus Specialist Near Me

    I’m amazed, I have to admit. Seldom do I encounter a blog that’s both equally educative and amusing, and let me tell you, you've hit the nail on the head. The problem is something not enough men and women are speaking intelligently about. I'm very happy that I found this during my search for something regarding this.


    May 4, 2021 at 15:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. business membership

    A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment. I believe that you need to publish more about this subject, it might not be a taboo matter but typically people don't discuss such subjects. To the next! Kind regards!!


    May 4, 2021 at 16:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. penske truck repair near me

    I was very happy to uncover this great site. I want to to thank you for your time just for this wonderful read!! I definitely really liked every bit of it and i also have you book marked to look at new stuff on your website.


    May 4, 2021 at 17:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. executive coach near me

    I really like reading an article that will make men and women think. Also, thank you for permitting me to comment!


    May 4, 2021 at 19:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. aitan arena aika private server


    May 4, 2021 at 21:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. life membership

    Having read this I believed it was rather informative. I appreciate you finding the time and effort to put this content together. I once again find myself spending a lot of time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!


    May 5, 2021 at 03:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. aika online private server download


    May 5, 2021 at 04:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. box truck collision repair


    May 5, 2021 at 05:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. aika online private server source


    May 5, 2021 at 05:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. RV Technician Orange County


    May 5, 2021 at 11:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Pediatric Optometrist


    May 5, 2021 at 14:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. box truck repair near me


    May 5, 2021 at 17:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. best chinese food near me


    May 5, 2021 at 19:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. RV Upholstery Riverside

    You have made some good points there. I checked on the web for additional information about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your views on this site.


    May 6, 2021 at 03:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. nearest mobile truck repair

    Spot on with this write-up, I absolutely feel this site needs a lot more attention. I’ll probably be returning to see more, thanks for the information!


    May 6, 2021 at 05:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. boom truck repair near me

    I truly love your site.. Great colors & theme. Did you develop this site yourself? Please reply back as I’m planning to create my own site and want to find out where you got this from or exactly what the theme is named. Appreciate it!


    May 6, 2021 at 06:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. executive coach


    May 6, 2021 at 06:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. RV Bathroom Los Angeles

    Good write-up. I definitely love this site. Continue the good work!


    May 6, 2021 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. pep boys near me


    May 6, 2021 at 13:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. travel trailers for sale in orange county ca


    May 6, 2021 at 17:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. antique stores near me


    May 7, 2021 at 04:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. rv services near me


    May 7, 2021 at 06:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Used Forklift Cylinders California


    May 7, 2021 at 08:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Liquors Stores Open


    May 7, 2021 at 08:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. boston market near me


    May 7, 2021 at 15:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. rv inspections near me


    May 7, 2021 at 20:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Internet Marketing Pros

    A fascinating discussion is worth comment. There's no doubt that that you should publish more on this subject, it might not be a taboo matter but usually people do not discuss such topics. To the next! All the best!!


    May 7, 2021 at 23:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Video Marketing Jobs

    Hi, I do believe this is a great web site. I stumbledupon it 😉 I may revisit once again since i have bookmarked it. Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and continue to help others.


    May 8, 2021 at 02:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Internet Marketing Jobs

    bookmarked!!, I like your blog!


    May 8, 2021 at 08:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Social Media Marketing Companies Orange County


    May 8, 2021 at 13:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. best rv upgrades

    The next time I read a blog, I hope that it doesn't fail me just as much as this one. After all, Yes, it was my choice to read, nonetheless I really believed you would have something helpful to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about something that you can fix if you were not too busy seeking attention.


    May 8, 2021 at 14:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. unauthorized yeezy boost

    I am really impressed with your writing skills as neatly as with the format to your weblog.
    Is this a paid topic or did you customize it your self?
    Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it
    is uncommon to see a nice weblog like this one nowadays..

    May 8, 2021 at 14:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Video Marketing Firms

    Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Many thanks, However I am having issues with your RSS. I don’t know why I am unable to join it. Is there anyone else getting identical RSS issues? Anyone that knows the solution will you kindly respond? Thanx!!


    May 8, 2021 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Video Marketing Pro


    May 8, 2021 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Internet Marketing Company California


    May 9, 2021 at 00:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. RV Fabrication California


    May 9, 2021 at 08:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. RV Body Shop Near Me


    May 9, 2021 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Digital Marketing Quote


    May 9, 2021 at 11:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Seo Marketing California

    I love it when folks get together and share thoughts. Great website, continue the good work!


    May 9, 2021 at 16:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. RV Storage Los Angeles


    May 9, 2021 at 19:01 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.