Bianca’s joint presentation with two forensic pathologists from PathWest focused on their experience with New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), and specifically NPS in Western Australian casework.
“NPS are not traditional psychoactive drugs and they are generally designed to bypass legislation,” Bianca said. “ChemCentre’s role is to identify the presence of the drugs in toxicological specimens, including post mortem samples taken as part of coronial investigations. We also advise the Coroner’s Office and forensic pathologists on the toxicity and potential contributory role of the drug in a death.
“Not all the NPS we see are actually ‘new’, but rather some are new uses for old drugs that weren’t intended to have psychoactive effects. This means they appear in new contexts and have previously unknown effects. Identifying them quickly and accurately can be important for patient outcomes and public health warnings or, in the event of a death, assisting the pathologists and Coroner in establishing the cause of death.”
Although legislation varies across Australian jurisdictions, many forensic toxicology laboratories have implemented sophisticated methodology to detect and identify NPS in casework.
“ChemCentre is considered a national leader in the identification and classification of synthetic cannabinoids, which are NPS designed to mimic the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, marijuana),” Bianca said. “Both ChemCentre and Forensic Science South Australia are leading the way in detecting and identifying synthetic opioids in forensic casework. “
The Coroners’ conference was attended by state coroners, pathologists, toxicologists, police and suicide prevention workers from across Australia and the Asia Pacific region.