Post-mortem drug redistribution--a toxicological nightmare

Forensic Sci Int. 1990 Apr;45(3):253-63. doi: 10.1016/0379-0738(90)90182-x.


Detailed human case data is presented to illustrate the dramatic extent of the phenomenon of post-mortem drug redistribution. The data suggests that there is a post-mortem diffusion of drugs along a concentration gradient, from sites of high concentration in solid organs, into the blood with resultant artefactual elevation of drug levels in blood. Highest drug levels were found in central vessels such as pulmonary artery and vein, and lowest levels were found in peripheral vessels such as subclavian and femoral veins. In individual cases, in multiple blood samples obtained from ligated vessels, concentrations of doxepin and desmethyldoxepin ranged from 3.6 to 12.5 mg/l and 1.2 to 7.5 mg/l, respectively; amobartital, secobarbital and pentobarbital from 4.3 to 25.8 mg/l, 3.9 to 25.3 mg/l and 5.1 to 31.5 mg/l respectively; clomipramine and desmethylclomipramine from 4.0 to 21.5 mg/l and 1.7 to 8.1 mg/l, respectively and flurazepam 0.15 to 0.99 mg/l; imipramine and desipramine from 4.1 to 18.1 mg/l and 1.0 to 3.6 mg/l, respectively. We conclude that this poorly studied phenomenon creates major difficulties in interpretation and undermines the reference value of data bases where the site of origin of post-mortem blood samples is unknown.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amobarbital / pharmacokinetics
  • Barbiturates / pharmacokinetics*
  • Clomipramine / analysis
  • Clomipramine / pharmacokinetics*
  • Doxepin / pharmacokinetics*
  • Female
  • Flurazepam / pharmacokinetics
  • Humans
  • Imipramine / pharmacokinetics*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pentobarbital / pharmacokinetics
  • Postmortem Changes*
  • Secobarbital / pharmacokinetics
  • Suicide
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Barbiturates
  • Doxepin
  • Secobarbital
  • Amobarbital
  • Pentobarbital
  • Flurazepam
  • Clomipramine
  • Imipramine