Postmortem Propofol Levels: A Case of Residual Detection Long After Administration

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Abstract

Propofol has gained notoriety in recent years because of its involvement in high-profile deaths and has increasingly become a drug of misuse and abuse particularly by health care personnel with easy access to it. In addition, propofol has also been used for more nefarious purposes such as murder and suicide. These, coupled with the drug’s routine use for both major and minor medical procedures, provide ample opportunities for it to be implicated as a cause of death or contributing factor. In such instances, forensic investigators may be faced with the task of not only detecting the presence of propofol on postmortem toxicology screening, but also determining if it was indeed responsible for the decedent’s demise. While propofol has a high volume of distribution, it is thought to equilibrate and be eliminated rapidly and not show significant tissue accumulation. However, this article presents a case illustrating that propofol can accumulate in the tissues and may be found up to a week after administration. This capacity to accumulate implies that postmortem detection does not necessarily confirm administration near the time of death, and further investigation needs to be undertaken to determine the timeline of events in order to rule out other factors, such as recent medical interventions, before attributing the cause of death to the presence of the drug.

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