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Elevated Morphine Concentrations Determined During Infant Death Investigations: Artifacts of Withdrawal of Care

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Three cases are reported of elevated postmortem blood morphine concentrations (189–3036 ng/mL) that were observed during the course of death investigations involving three children ranging in age from 1 week to 2 years, all of whom underwent withdrawal of life support. In all three cases, the presence of opiates in postmortem blood was indicated by immunoassay (ELISA) and quantitative confirmatory analysis of free morphine concentrations in postmortem blood was performed by solid-phase extraction followed by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) in the selected ion monitoring mode. While the practice of withdrawing life support from terminally ill patients, with the accompanying administration of narcotics/analgesics has been reported in the medical literature, it has not been adequately described in the forensic literature. The implications of this practice on the forensic toxicological interpretation of morphine findings are discussed. To our knowledge, this is the first report of postmortem morphine concentrations arising directly from administration in conjunction with withdrawal of care in pediatric patients.
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Keywords: blood; forensic science; forensic toxicology; morphine; pediatric; postmortem; withdrawal of care

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Forensic Science, Laurentian University, 935 Ramsey Lake Rd., Sudbury, ON P3E 2C6, Canada. 2: Toxicology Section, Centre of Forensic Sciences, 25 Grosvenor St. Toronto, ON M7A 2G8, Canada.

Publication date: July 1, 2008

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