Forensic toxicological data provides valuable insight into the potential contribution of alcohol and drugs to external-cause deaths. There is a paucity of material that guides injury researchers on the principles that need to be considered when examining the presence and contribution of alcohol and drugs to these deaths. This paper aims to describe and discuss strengths and limitations of postmortem forensic toxicology sample selection, variations in analytical capabilities and data interpretation for injury prevention research. Issues to be considered by injury researchers include: the circumstances surrounding death (including the medical and drug use history of the deceased person); time and relevant historical factors; postmortem changes (including redistribution and instability); laboratory practices; specimens used; drug concentration; and attribution of contribution to death. This paper describes the range of considerations for testing and interpreting postmortem forensic toxicology, particularly when determining impairment or toxicity as possible causal factors in injury deaths. By describing these considerations, this paper has application to decisions about study design and case inclusion in injury prevention research, and to the interpretation of research findings.
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