Traditional autopsy has changed little in the past century. In Japan, the rate of forensic autopsy in cases of unusual death is very low. Therefore, multi-slice computed tomography (CT) has been used to obtain imaging data instead of or in addition to autopsy in suspicious forensic cases. In our institute, postmortem multi-slice CT has been performed since 2009, and by 2014 there were over 1,000 cases. Our extensive experience with postmortem CT shows that in many cases of death by drug overdose, stomach contents exhibit high X-ray absorption. This article reviews the relationship between CT findings of stomach contents and toxicological analysis results in 23 cases of death by drug overdose. All cases (12 females and 11 males, aged 44 ± 11 years) known to have orally ingested drugs were included in this study. We assessed the slices of all stomach areas on consecutive axial CT images. Twenty cases (87%) showed high X-ray absorption in the stomach, while the other three did not demonstrate radio-dense stomach contents even though drug analysis detected lethal concentrations of drugs in the blood. In conclusion, drugs were frequently, but not always, visualized as contents with high X-ray absorption in the stomach. Postmortem gastric CT images can provide useful information in cases of oral drug intoxication if there are empty drug packages or a suicide note at the death scene. However, precise determination of the cause of death requires full autopsy in cases where there is no indication of suicide at the death scene.
- Drug overdose
- Forensic autopsy
- High X-ray absorption
- Postmortem computed tomography
- Stomach contents