Why Real Life Toxicology Tests Take Longer Than On TV


Forensic science, it would seem, is a glamorous profession where sharp-minded scientists use state-of-the-art technology to unwrap the mysteries that often lie behind a person’s death, says The Oklahoman. That’s how the television version goes. The reality is those scientists can work long hours, perform tedious work, and labor under less-than-ideal conditions with aging equipment in a deteriorating building.

The mission for forensic toxicologists remains the same: find out what substance or substances may have killed someone. And getting it right – for the sake of a deceased person’s loved ones – is paramount, even if it takes time. “It’s a time-eater,” said Byron Curtis, chief toxicologist for the state medical examiner’s office. “But it has to be done right. If it’s wrong, it’s meaningless.” Television programs like “CSI” and “NCIS” have given the public a view of forensic toxicology long on drama but short on accuracy. The programs show laboratory staff testing substances in high-tech machines, which instantly spit out information that help police solve crimes or other mysteries. The reality is that the science of toxicology is for the patient. “Their capabilities on TV are magical,” Curtis said. In real life, samples must be taken. Tests ordered and performed, their results verified. When answers don’t come easily, more lab work lies ahead. “That gets difficult because there’s an infinite number of chemicals” that can be tested for, Curtis said.

Comments are closed.