Journal of forensic and legal medicine

Biomarkers of recent drinking, retrograde extrapolation of blood-alcohol concentration and plasma-to-blood distribution ratio in a case of driving under the influence of alcohol.

PMID 21663869


This case report describes the police investigation of a road-traffic accident involving a collision at night (01.00 am) between a car and a truck in which a passenger in the car was killed. The driver of the truck was found responsible for the crash although a roadside breath-alcohol test was negative (<0.1 mg/L breath or 20 mg/100 mL blood). Because of injuries sustained in the crash, the female driver of the car was not breath-tested at the time but was transported to a local hospital for emergency treatment. After swabbing the skin with isopropanol an indwelling catheter was inserted at 01.40 am. A blood sample was taken at 02.10 am and the plasma portion contained 8 mmol/L ethanol according to analysis at the hospital clinical laboratory using a gas chromatographic method. Another blood sample was taken at 05.45 am for analysis of ethanol at a forensic toxicology laboratory, although the result was negative (<10 mg/100 mL). The police authorities wanted an explanation for the discrepancy between the clinical and forensic laboratory results and inquired whether the driver of the car was above the legal alcohol limit (>20 mg/100 mL) at the time of the crash. The scientific basis for converting a plasma-ethanol concentration into a blood-ethanol concentration and back extrapolation of the driver's blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) is explained. The risk of contaminating a blood sample by swabbing the skin with isopropanol is discussed along with the use of alcohol biomarkers (ethyl glucuronide and ethyl sulphate) as evidence of recent drinking.

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Diethyl sulfate, 98%