Saturday, February 28, 2015

Forensic Toxicology Job Openings

Just a roll-call on some open job positions that I have recently seen:

Forensic Toxicologist (II) in the "Spice Laboratory" of the American Registry of Pathology at the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System

Forensic Toxicologist (III) in the "Spice Laboratory" of the American Registry of Pathology at the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System

Forensic Toxicologist at the Montgomery County, OH coroner's office / Miami Valley Regional Crime Laboratory

Toxicology Manager at the Houston, TX Forensic Science Center

Forensic Toxicologist at the Pinellas County, FL Forensic Laboratory

Forensic Toxicologist and Lecturer at the University of Glasgow in Scotland

Toxicology Laboratory Director at the Onondaga County, NY Medical Examiner's Office

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What do we actually know about these "Molly" overdoses in CT?

News broke out of Connecticut yesterday that 12 people on the Wesleyan University campus were hospitalized after consuming "Molly".

Wesleyan campus rocked by student overdoses

I'm not going to hash out why these are examples of maybe ok to horrible reporting on the matter, but with all of the information that we actually know from these articles, the story can be reported in another, more honest way...

At least a dozen people on the Wesleyan University campus in Connecticut were sent to the hospital with unreported symptoms due to ingesting an unknown substance (only described as the generic moniker Molly) in an unknown dosage. Nothing more is known at this time and nothing will be known until drug chemistry tests on any substance seized and/or toxicology analyses on blood or urine are completed.

Until then, "You know nothing, Jon Snow!"

But reporting such as that wouldn't get web clicks, would it?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Applications to life and work: The Mountain and The Viper

In preparation for the debut of Game of Thrones, season 5, I've been rewatching season 4. One of my favorite parts of this season was the much talked about trial by combat between The Mountain and The Viper.
There are many takeaways from this fight that can be related to life and work.
  • Don't get cocky.
  • Doubletap...err...doublespear
  • Finish the job at hand.
  • Don't gloat.
  • Don't ever get within an arm's reach of a ginormous angry dude who is being paid to kill you AND also loves killing people.
  • No matter how good or smart you are at a task or a profession, always be humble
  • Human skulls make a large mess when crushed, so plan accordingly.
  • Things tend to go astray. Always have a backup plan such as a manticore poisoned spear tip.

Friday, February 20, 2015

My 1.5 Cents on Courtroom Behavior

ACS webinars along with Dr. Jim Carver covered “Chemistry inthe Courtroom: Demistifying Science for Judge and Jury” yesterday during a webinar. I didn’t get to view it as it was happening, but I was able to follow along via tweets by the @ACSWebinars. It looked to be a good presentation with valuable information for anyone who will ever step foot into a court room.
I've spent several years providing fact and expert witness testimony. Here are my random 1.5 cents on how to act in the courtroom; this is in no way a complete guide on courtroom behavior - just my ramblings.
  1. Bring some other reading material or something to occupy your time while not in the courtroom. I’ve sat in many courthouses for hours prior to actually taking the stand. Finished many books this way
  2. Courtroom benches can be quite uncomfortable. Be aware of this.
  3. Always arrive at least 30 minutes earlier than normal, especially if the courthouse is an unknown to you.
  4. Be calm.
  5. Breathe.
  6. Sit up straight in the witness chair. Do not slouch.
  7. Pronounce your words coherently and do not talk quickly. If there is a microphone, use it.
  8. Unless stipulated, be prepared to talk about yourself – education, job history, certifications, job duties, papers published – basically anything that will lay the foundation for you as an expert witness.
  9. Be prepared to be challenged on your knowledge, education, and history.
  10. When asked a question, take a breath, pause, and then answer.
  11. If the trial is a jury trial, look at the attorney who is addressing the question to you, then when answering the question, look at the members of the jury. Make eye contact with each and every one that you can. Do this routinely.
  12. Do not interrupt the attorney. Let the attorney finish her sentence, pause, and then directly answer the question.
  13. Be calm.
  14. Things have the possibility to get a little heated in the courtroom, but remember you are the expert in your field and are called to testify for that very reason – you are the scientific expert.
  15. It is ok to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall”. Especially if you really don’t know or if you really cannot recall.
  16. If there is an objection by an attorney, stop what you are saying. Do not continue until the judge says it is ok to continue.
  17. Never lie, misrepresent the science, or make up any information.
  18. Breathe
  19. Humans do make mistakes. It may be hard to admit this in court, but it’s a fact of life. I’ve gotten into a few good discussions while on the stand about human errors.
  20. The validated procedures we use in the field are only as good as the people trained to do them.
  21. There are checks and balances and redundancies built into a reputable laboratory’s procedures for a reason. Don’t be afraid to talk about them.
  22. A good attorney will prep you for testimony. A bad attorney will not.
  23. Always maintain contact with the attorney that has retained your services. If you have a question about the court process, do not hesitate to ask.
  24. If using figures or diagrams, please consult with attorney beforehand.
  25. Do not try to draw chemical structures or anything else complex without a guide. Do not do it “off the top of your head” while in front of the judge, jury, and attorneys.
  26. Always remain calm on the stand. It is quite easy to become frazzled when a defense attorney rapid-fires questions at you. Again, let her finish the question, pause, take a breath, and answer confidently and coherently.
  27. Never leave the court until released by the judge.
  28. You know what you know. You are the expert. Do not elaborate outside the area of your job expertise or scope. I am always happy to say “That is outside the scope of my expertise”.
  29. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
  30. Know your case. You are the expert.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Knock knock, where's ol' croc, always right on time!

Over the last week or so, krokodil has been in a few media blurbs emanating out of Utah...

Utah resident may have been busted with ‘zombie drug’ Krokodil, and lots of meth

Flesh-eating drug may have made its way to Utah

Undercover agents foil alleged $80,000 drug sale in Pleasant View

Please note the use of the qualifying word "may".

As I said back in March 2014, there still exists no credible evidence to support the idea that krokodil exists in the USA. Almost a year later and the statement still holds true.

We'll see if the media ever reports the true identity of the substance purported to be krokodil in this case...but I won't lose any sleep over it.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Girl on LSD

Until this morning, I hadn't heard this song for quite some time. I love music with drug and toxicology references.

Marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, crystal meth, glue, LSD, beer, china white, coffee...

Here's the B-side of Tom Petty's You Don't Know How It Feels...

Girl on LSD.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

New synthetic cannabinoids in Louisiana - January 2015

The state of Louisiana recently controlled a few newer synthetic cannabinoid compounds that their state crime labs have detected in newer herbal incense and potpourri products.

These are MDMB-CHMICA, PX1, and PX2.

MDMB-CHMICA is methyl (S)-​2-​(1-​(cyclohexylmethyl)-​1H-​indole-​3-​carboxamido)-​3,​3-​dimethylbutanoate. Chemical formula is C23H32N2O3.

PX1 is (S)-​N-​(1-​amino-​1-​oxo-​3-​phenylpropan-​2-​yl)-​1-​(5-​fluoropentyl)-​1H-​indole-​3-​carboxamide. Chemical formula is C23H26FN3O2. Alternate names for PX1 are SRF-30 and 5F-APP-PICA.

PX2 is (R)-​N-​(1-​amino-​1-​oxo-​3-​phenylpropan-​2-​yl)-​1-​(5-​fluoropentyl)-​1H-​indazole-​3-​carboxamide. Chemical formula is C22H25FN4O2. Alternate names for PX2 are FU-PX and 5F-APP-PINACA.

The compounds are suspected to be a synthetic cannabinoid receptor 1 and 2 agonists, but as we've discussed for the vast majority of these compounds, the human pharmacology and toxicology is unknown at this time.

The article linked above mentions that they have been suspected in hospitalizations and deaths in Louisiana, but I know of no such lab that does testing for these in a biological (blood or urine) matrix.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Indiana Court of Appeals finds designer drug laws unconstitutational

Over the past week the Indiana Court of Appeals has issued some rather interesting and major opinions regarding designer drugs and the state’s legislation controlling them.

I won’t get very detailed here (I’m not an attorney and will never pretend to be one even if staying at a Holiday Inn), but overall, the rulings stated that the designer drug laws as written were determined to be void for vagueness and therefore unconstitutional. The unrelated cases heard by the court stem from 2012-2013 seizures of drugs and subsequent arrest of individuals on felony charges associated with what the state determined to be possession, dealing,  and/or conspiracy to commit dealing “synthetic drug lookalike substances” – the state’s new language regarding a controlled substance analog without all the sciency jargon.  That “synthetic drug lookalike substance” at the center of these two cases was the synthetic cannabinoid XLR11 and it was being compared to already controlled JWH-018 and AM-2201.

As noted, the state has thirty (30) days to file an appeal of the appeals decision. We all know that they will file one.
The opinions in their entirety can be found here:
Christopher Tiplick v. State of Indiana

Aadil Ashfaque v. State of Indiana

Well, what does the Indiana state law say about "lookalike substances"? That'd be good to know, eh?
Indiana Code 35-31.5-2-321.5 defines a "synthetic drug lookalike substance" as one or more of the following:
1. A substance, other than a synthetic drug, which any of the factors listed in subsection c would lead a reasonable person to believe to be a synthetic drug.
2. A substance, other than a synthetic drug:
    A. that a person knowns or should have known was intended to be consumed;  and
    B. the consumption of which the person knowns or should have known to be intended to cause intoxication.
The term "synthetic drug lookalike substance" does not pertain to food and food ingredients, alcohol, a legend drug, tobacco, or a dietary supplement.
In determining whether a substance is a "synthetic drug lookalike substance", the following factors may be considered:
1. the overall appearance of a dosage unit of the substance, including its shape, color, size, markings or lack of markings, taste, consistency, and any other identifying physical characteristics.
2. how the substance is packaged for sale or distribution, including the shape, color, size, markings or lack of markings, and any other identifying physical characteristics of the packaging.
3. Any statement made by the owner or person in control of the substance concerning the substance's nature, use, or effect.
4. Any statement made to the buyer or recipient of the substance suggesting or implying that the substance is a synthetic drug.
5. Any statement made to the buyer or recipient of the substance suggesting or implying the substance may be resold for profit.
6. The overall circumstances under which the substance is distributed, including whether:
    A. the distribution included an exchange of, or demand for, money or other property as consideration; and
    B. the amount of the consideration was substantially greater than the reasonable retail market value of the substance the seller claims the substance to be.
 The legal definition muddies the waters, that's about it.
When the “lookalike substance” legislation was pending in the Indiana General Assembly in 2012-2013, I immediately questioned its appropriateness, enforceability, and constitutionality via multiple channels (formally and informally).

We'll see what happens, but the recent opinions issued by the Court of Appeals  is, at least in my mind, a massive blow to Indiana legislators and law enforcement officials and their efforts (misguided or not, that's really a conversation for another day) to control every compound that emerges on the gray market.

Disclosure: I consulted and gave expert testimony on earlier versions of Indiana's designer drug legislation to the General Assembly and associated committees in 2010-2012. I did not consult with Indiana legislators on the "synthetic drug lookalike substance" language of 2013.