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Dr. Chip
Dr. Chip, Doctor (MD)
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I understand cocaine breaks down in a decomposing human body.

Resolved Question:

I understand cocaine breaks down in a decomposing human body. If a toxicology report concluded that there was 1.7 mcg/ml in a 5'5" 160 pound male after 6 days of decomposition in outside elements (average 80 degrees--not sure if that is important information to determine the answer), do you know or know anyone who could estimate the original amount of cocaine in the body at the time of death? Coroner ruled the death a cocaine overdose. Thank you!
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Health
Expert:  Dr. Chip replied 1 year ago.
Hi. Actually, since cocaine would no longer be actively metabolized after death, the metabolite measurement--this test--would actually be the concentration of that metabolite at the time of death. And that particular number--1.7 mcg/ml--would not be in what's considered a toxic range. Also, just because cocaine is on board doesn't absolutely mean that it was the cocaine that caused the death. I think the coroner was in error in assuming that he could list the cause of death as a cocaine overdose.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Thank you for your answer and I realize it sounds like a small amount. However, a report published by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM International) is one of the sources where I read that cocaine breaks down after death. Here's the abstract from that report:


From March 1988 through March 1990, at the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office toxicology laboratory, samples from 77 decomposed human bodies were tested for the presence of cocaine, employing gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC-MS). The material analyzed included decomposed soft tissue, bloody decomposition fluid, mummified tissue, maggots, and beetle feces. Twenty-two cases (28.6%) were positive for cocaine, many of these cases in states of advanced decomposition. These findings indicate the usefulness of testing decomposed tissue for cocaine in all cases where its presence is suspected. This is contrary to what might be expected, since cocaine is generally labile and rapidly broken down by both enzymatic and nonenzymatic mechanisms.

Expert:  Dr. Chip replied 1 year ago.
OK. But that really still confirms what I told you--the last line refers to living metabolism and not that after death. Since the article confirms that it can still be in the body long after death, with the level you mentioned not being a toxic dose, I still stand by my opinion that the coroner is erroneous in labeling this as a cocaine overdose death
Dr. Chip, Doctor (MD)
Category: Health
Satisfied Customers: 23432
Experience: Over 20 yrs of Family Practice
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Dr. Chip
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