Forensic toxicology is the use of toxicology and other disciplines such as analytical chemistry, pharmacology, and clinical chemistry to aid medical or legal investigation of death, poisoning, and drug use. The primary concern for forensic toxicology is not the legal outcome of the toxicological investigation or the technology utilized, but rather the obtaining and interpreting of the results. A toxicological analysis can be done to various kinds of samples. A forensic toxicologist must consider the context of an investigation, in particular any physical symptoms recorded, and any evidence collected at a crime scene that may narrow the search, such as pill bottles, powders, trace residue, and any available chemicals. Provided with this information and samples with which to work, the forensic toxicologist must determine which toxic substances are present, in what concentrations, and the probable effect of those chemicals on the person.
Forensic toxicologists work with pathologists, medical examiners and coroners in helping to establish the role of alcohol, drugs and poisons in the causation of death. The toxicologist identifies and quantifies the presence of drugs and chemicals in blood and tissue samples. This is done using state of the art chemical and biomedical instrumentation capable of detecting small amounts of toxic materials, positively identifying them, and accurately measuring how much is present.
Commencing one’s formal at the bachelor’s level, West Chester University, West Chester, Pennsylvania, offers a Bachelor of Science in Forensic and Toxicological Chemistry within their Department of Chemistry. We provide this as an example of the curriculum to be anticipated:
- General Chemistry
- Calculus I
- Organic Chemistry
- Physics I
- Communication Studies
- Forensic Chemistry
- Forensic Chemistry Lab
- Introduction to Criminal Justice
This is a partial list from the West Chester four year program.
For students wishing to expand their academics and potential career opportunities, there are master’s programs available. One such course is offered by the University Health Science Center (UHSC), San Antonio, Texas. Their Master of Science in Toxicology is designed for students who hold a bachelor’s degree in clinical laboratory sciences, biology, chemistry, or other related discipline from an accredited institution in the United States. The program offers a specialization in forensic/analytic toxicology. There are thesis and non-thesis options. The minimum number of semester credit hours for graduation is 38.0. The following is a taste of the UHSC master’s curriculum:
- Principles and Applications in Analytical Toxicology
- Medical/Forensic Toxicology
- Organ Systems Biochemistry
- Pharmacology and Toxicology
- Ethics in Research
A similar program is offered by the University of Florida (UF) in Gainesville. Their Forensic Toxicology concentration is provided by the College of Veterinary Medicine. It focuses on general and advanced principles of toxicology, forensic toxicology and drug metabolism providing a strong foundation in analytical techniques, pharmacokinetics, drug elimination and toxicology. Modules in forensic pharmacology, doping control, postmortem toxicology, expert testimony and QA/QC procedures are also featured. This program may be of interest to those currently working or seeking employment in the following areas:
- Crime laboratories
- Medical Examiners Offices
- Police departments
- Criminal defense and prosecution attorneys
- Hospital and Clinical Chemistry Laboratories
- Pharmaceutical Industry
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2012 that the median salary for the occupation of “Forensic Science Technician” was $52,840. The job growth is expected to be only 6% or 700 jobs through 2022. The website payscale.com with its 40 million individual salary profiles has a brighter picture for the profession of toxicology. Payscale lists the median salary for toxicologists at $79,132.
For many Toxicologists, according to Payscale, experience and pay levels seem to be correlated; more years in the business generally lead to more money. Salaries of relatively inexperienced workers fall in the neighborhood of $65,000, but folks who have racked up five to 10 years see a notably higher median of $89,000. Toxicologists see a median salary of $96,000 after reaching one to two decades on the job. Professionals who boast more than 20 years of experience reap the fruits of their labor to the six-figure tune of $108,000 — the plum median salary in this group.