Main content area

Fatal poisoning involving cyclopropylfentanyl — Investigation of time-dependent postmortem redistribution

Brockbals, Lana, Staeheli, Sandra N., Gentile, Simon, Schlaepfer, Markus, Bissig, Christian, Bolliger, Stephan A., Kraemer, Thomas, Steuer, Andrea E.
Forensic science international 2019 v.294 pp. 80-85
blood, blood sampling, death, fentanyl, forensic sciences, heart, liquid chromatography, medicine, necropsy, normal values, pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, poisoning, public health, tandem mass spectrometry, urine
A growing number of fatal overdoses involving opioid drugs, in particular involving fentanyl and its analogues, pose an immense threat to public health. Postmortem casework of forensic toxicologists in such cases is challenging, as data on pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic properties as well as reference values for acute toxicities and data on potential postmortem redistribution (PMR) mechanisms often do not exist. A fatal case involving cyclopropylfentanyl was investigated at the Zurich Institute of Forensic Medicine and the Zurich Forensic Science Institute; an unknown powder found at the scene was reliably identified as cyclopropylfentanyl by gas chromatography-infrared spectroscopy (GC-IR). Femoral blood samples were collected at two time points after death; 11h postmortem (t1) and during the medico-legal autopsy 29h after death (t2). At the autopsy, additional samples from the heart blood, urine and gastric content were collected. Cyclopropylfentanyl was quantified using a validated liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometric (LC–MS/MS) method. Femoral blood concentration of cyclopropylfentanyl at autopsy was 19.8ng/mL (t1=15.7ng/mL; heart blood concentration at autopsy=52.4ng/mL). In the light of the current literature and under the exclusion that no other morphological findings could explain the cause of death, contribution of cyclopropylfentanyl to death was proposed (polydrug use). Significant postmortem concentration increases of cyclopropylfentanyl in femoral blood during 18h after the first sampling were observed, thus indicating a relevant potential to undergo PMR. A central-to-peripheral blood concentration ratio of 2.6 supports this. Consequently, the current case suggests that postmortem cyclopropylfentanyl concentration should always be interpreted with care.