Summary statistics for drugs and alcohol concentration recovered in post-mortem femoral blood in Western Switzerland

Forensic Sci Int. 2021 Aug;325:110883. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2021.110883. Epub 2021 Jun 24.


In post-mortem investigations of fatal intoxication, it is challenging to determine which drug(s) were responsible for the death, and which drugs did not. This study aims to provide post-mortem femoral blood drug levels in lethal intoxication and in post-mortem control cases, where the cause of death was other than intoxication. The reference values could assist in the interpretation of toxicological results in the routine casework. To this end, all post-mortem toxicological results in femoral blood from 2011 to 2017 in Western Switzerland were considered. A full autopsy with systematic toxicological analysis (STA) was conducted in all cases. Results take into account the cause of death classified into one of four categories (as published by Druid and colleagues): I) certified intoxication by one substance alone, IIa) certified intoxication by more than one substance, IIb) certified other causes of death with incapacitation due to drugs, and III) certified other causes of death without incapacitation due to drugs. This study includes 1 990 post-mortem cases where femoral blood was analysed. The material comprised 619 women (31%) and 1 371 men (69%) with a median age of 50 years. The concentrations of the 32 most frequently recorded substances as well as alcohol are discussed. These include 6 opioids and opiates, 3 antidepressants, 6 neuroleptics and hypnotics, 1 barbiturate, 11 benzodiazepines (and related drugs), 2 amphetamine-type stimulants, cocaine, paracetamol, and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The most common substances that caused intoxication alone were morphine, methadone, ethanol, tramadol, and cocaine. The post-mortem concentration ranges for all substance are categorized as I, IIa, IIb, or III. Statistical post-mortem reference concentrations for drugs are discussed and compared with previously published concentrations. This study shows that recording and classifying cases is time-consuming, but it is rewarding in a long-term perspective to achieve a more reliable information about fatal and non-fatal blood concentrations.

Keywords: Benzodiazepine; Drugs; Intoxication; Medicine; Post-mortem toxicology.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / blood*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Ethanol / blood*
  • Female
  • Forensic Toxicology
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / blood*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / blood*
  • Postmortem Changes
  • Switzerland
  • Young Adult


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Ethanol