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Postmortem Atropine Concentrations in Resuscitation Cases

Molina, D. Kimberley MD; Neerman, Michael F. PhD; Wilk, Sarah A. BS

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: September 2012 - Volume 33 - Issue 3 - p 227–230
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e31823f0513
Original Articles

The medications used during resuscitation are often in and of themselves toxic. Several reports have been published regarding toxicities of these drugs, including lidocaine, procainamide, and atropine. But how does a forensic pathologist or toxicologist differentiate a possible intoxication from therapeutic or resuscitory use especially given that the concentrations of such drugs, when used in the setting of resuscitation, have not been studied? Concentrations of a well-known resuscitation medication, atropine, were assessed in cases where it was administered before death during attempted resuscitation in an effort to address this deficiency. A review of deaths occurring in 2009 was undertaken to identify cases where drugs known to be used during resuscitation were present on toxicological analysis. Autopsy reports and medical records were examined to determine how much atropine was administered, the timing and route of administration, the time the sample was drawn (antemortem and postmortem), the source of the sample, and the ultimate cause of death. Eighty-nine cases were identified in which atropine was given before death during attempted resuscitation and was detected in the blood on postmortem toxicological screening; 11 cases were identified in which atropine was administered before death yet was not detected on the postmortem toxicological screening. Mean age was 41 years, and there were 65 males and 35 females. The overall median dose of atropine given was 3 mg, the median difference between the time of last administration of the atropine to the time of death (or draw for antemortem samples) was 15 minutes, and the median atropine concentration was 0.1 mg/L. Analysis failed to reveal significant differences in the atropine concentration based on the route of administration (intravenous or intraosseus), the cause of death, or the time since administration (within the first 2 hours). Analysis did reveal a difference between the atropine concentrations in peripheral versus central blood sources and with prolonged postmortem interval (>24 hours) suggesting postmortem redistribution.

From the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office, San Antonio, TX.

Manuscript received September 27, 2011; accepted October 20, 2011.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reprints: D. Kimberley Molina, MD, Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office, 7337 Louis Pasteur, San Antonio, TX 78229. E-mail:

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.