Volume 48, Issue 4 (July 2003)
Analytical Aspects of Volatile Substance Abuse (VSA)
Through a case report, the authors illustrate the volatile substance abuse (VSA) toxicological investigation difficulties mainly due to evaporation of the compounds from postmortem samples and to the lack of reference data for interpretation. A 17-year-old man, student in a chemistry institute, was found dead with a plastic bag placed over his head. Several chemical substances were found in his belongings. Autopsy findings included serious pulmonary lesions and hemorrhagic digestive ulcerations. A large screening of drugs and toxic compounds and selective analyses for several classes of drugs of abuse were carried out in the autopsy samples. In particular, a headspace (HS), -gas chromatography/-mass spectrometry (GC/MS) technique was used to screen for volatile substances and metabolites in the biological samples and for residues of volatile substances on the surface of the plastic bag and in the chemicals found on the scene. The main analytical finding was the presence of alkanes (heptane, methyl-2-pentane, methyl-3-hexane, methylcyclohexane) in the gastric content. The literature data, VSA practices, long time-delay between death and autopsy, preservation conditions of the biological samples before analysis, and in-lab experiments on evaporation of volatile substances were considered to interpret this result. The present fatality was attributed to VSA with a gasoline-based stain remover like “eau ecarlate™,” associated with a hypoxic recreation practice using a plastic bag.