Postmortem Hair Analysis Verifies Heroin Exposure and Leads to a Killer

Case Report

Austin J Forensic Sci Criminol. 2015;2(2): 1021.

Postmortem Hair Analysis Verifies Heroin Exposure and Leads to a Killer

Papoutsis I¹, Athanaselis S¹, Nikolaou P¹,Spiliopoulou C¹, Tsiola A² and Stefanidou M¹*

1Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology,Faculty of Medicine, University of Athens, Greece

2Forensic Department of Patras, Ministry of Justice,Greece

*Corresponding author: Stefanidou ME, Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, School of Medicine,University of Athens, Athens, Greece

Received: April 09, 2015; Accepted: May 15, 2015; Published: May 29, 2015


This case-report concerns the determination of opiates in hair from a 28-year old female, who was missing and found dead after 18 months. After identification through DNA analysis, toxicological analysis of hair samples was carried out. A gas chromatography-mass spectrometric method was used for the determination of opiates in hair, after thorough decontamination, solid-phase extraction and derivatization with BSTFA with 1% TMCS. The concentrations of morphine, codeine and 6-acetyl-morphine in the hair sample of the victim were found to be 0.083, 0.050 and 0.033ng/mg hair, respectively. The detection of opiates in the hair of the victim essentially helped the police authorities to associate her with her killer.

Keywords: Forensic hair analysis; Homicide investigation; Opiates; GC/MS


Forensic pathologists and toxicologists are often confronted with skeletonized remains. In these cases traditional specimens are no longer available but toxicological information may be needed to determine the cause of death. In such a case, the utility of analyzing whatever remains is available from the corpse, e.g. hair, bone, etc. is necessary to extract some information about the case [1]. Hair can be used as an alternative specimen in the absence of urine or blood samples and its analysis is routinely used in forensic science to document repetitive drug exposure [2]. The determination of drugs of abuse in hair is generating considerable toxicological and forensic interest during the last decades [3-5]. The main advantage of hair is that it retains drugs or chemical substances trapped for prolonged periods of time (weeks to months, depending on the length of the hair shaft) as drugs incorporated in it remain unaltered in the keratin matrix for a long time, since they do not participate in any biotransformation reactions or diffusion procedures [6]. By providing information on exposure to drugs over time, hair analysis may be useful in verifying past rather than recent drug use. In addition, hair analysis may be especially useful when a history of drug use is difficult or impossible to obtain [7]. In many fatal cases, the results of this analysis can contribute significantly to the establishment of the cause of death or the manner of death [8]. Although there is reasonable agreement that the qualitative results from hair analysis are valid, the interpretation of the results is still under debate owing to unresolved questions such as the influences of external contamination or cosmetic treatment, and possible genetic differences [9-11].

The aim of this report is to present a case where the application of hair analysis during the investigation of a forensic case revealed the exposure of a female victim of homicide to heroin leading to the killer and clarifying the manner and the conditions of death. Heroin is among the most commonly abused drugs in the world and it is the most frequently encountered drug of abuse in fatal cases of drug addicts. Morphine, codeine and 6-acetyl-morphine are usually identified in biological fluids obtained from opiate addicts. Only the identification of 6-acetyl-morphine in biological samples provides unequivocal proof of heroin use [12,13].

Case Presentation

This case report concerns a 28-year-old woman, who disappeared from a small town of the Greek countryside where she had gone for summer holidays with her new boyfriend. Eighteen months after her disappearance, skeletal remains with skull and some hair were found in a field of olive-trees (Figure 1), not far from the town where the woman had disappeared. The autopsy and the forensic investigation was carried out by the Forensic Department of Patras. The specimens were sent to the Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology of Athens for toxicological investigation. The deceased was identified from her jewels and clothes that she was wearing, as well as from DNA analysis. Toxicological analysis of hair sample was carried out by using solid-phase extraction and a gas chromatography-mass spectrometric method.

Citation: Papoutsis I, Athanaselis S, Nikolaou P, Spiliopoulou C, Tsiola A and Stefanidou M. Postmortem Hair Analysis Verifies Heroin Exposure and Leads to a Killer. Austin J Forensic Sci Criminol. 2015;2(2): 1021. ISSN:2380-0801