Toxicological analysis after asphyxial suicide with helium and a plastic bag.
ABSTRACT A 23-year-old man was found on a raised hide in lying position, the head wrapped in a plastic bag connected with a helium gas cylinder by a polypropylene tube. The autopsy did not show any specific findings nor did the routine toxicological analysis reveal significant information regarding the cause of death (BAC 0.9 mg/g, diphenhydramine 0.81 microg/ml in heart serum). For the detection of helium in the lungs, gas samples from both lungs were collected by a method ensuring minimal dilution. Gas analyses were performed using a GC-MS with a split-splitless injector and a headspace syringe. As carrier gas the commonly used helium was replaced by nitrogen. Helium was found in clearly elevated concentrations in gas samples from both lungs. Therefore, suffocation by breathing helium enriched, and thus oxygen deficient atmosphere, can strongly be assumed as the cause of death.
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ABSTRACT: Context. Fatal poisoning data can reveal trends in the poisons encountered, which can help guide prescribing practices and product safety and other legislation, and more recently has helped to monitor the use of emerging drugs of abuse ('legal highs'). Methods. We searched Mortality Statistics - Injury and poisoning, Series DH4 (2000-2005), Mortality Statistics - Deaths registered in England and Wales, Series DR (2006-2011), and the Office for National Statistics drug poisoning database for information on fatal poisoning during 2000-2011. We also searched the Pubmed database for 'fatal' and 'poisoning' and 'England' and 'Wales': this search yielded seven papers that gave relevant information on deaths reported during 2000-2011 that were not superseded by later publications. Deaths from poisoning. The annual number of deaths from poisoning fell from 2000 (3092) to 2010 (2749), before increasing to 3341 in 2011. This increase was due in part to a change in the ICD coding relating to alcohol poisoning, suggesting that such deaths had been under-recorded previously. Although fatalities from dextropropoxyphene declined (287 in 2004 and 18 in 2011) following the withdrawal of co-proxamol (paracetamol [acetaminophen] and dextropropoxyphene [propoxyphene] mixture) during 2005-2007, deaths involving codeine and most notably tramadol (836 deaths during 2000-2011) increased. Deaths from paracetamol poisoning either alone, or with alcohol reached 89 in 2011, the lowest annual figure since 1974. However, in reality there has been no marked downward trend since 1999 despite reductions in pack size, continued publicity as to the dangers of paracetamol overdose, and improved liver failure treatment, including transplantation. The annual number of deaths from antidepressants remained relatively stable (median: 397, range: 335-469). Although the number of deaths from dosulepin [dothiepin] decreased (186 in 2000 and 49 in 2011), the number of deaths involving selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors increased (50 in 2000 and 127 in 2011). Although annual numbers of deaths involving diamorphine/morphine (88% unintentional) declined, deaths involving methadone (89% unintentional) increased and the total annual number of deaths from these drugs showed little change (2000: 1061, 2011: 995). Deaths involving amfetamine/metamfetamine remained relatively constant at about 50 annually, and whilst cocaine-related deaths fell by 48% during 2008-2011, and deaths involving MDMA and related compounds fell by 69% over this same period, deaths involving 'legal highs', notably γ-hydroxybutrate/γ-butyrolactone and ketamine, increased. Conclusions. Alterations in the availability of paracetamol and of prescription drugs such as dextropropoxyphene and dosulepin have not been accompanied by decreases in the number of deaths from poisoning. Despite intense media and other interest, the annual number of deaths (250-300) involving 'recreational' drugs remains small in relation to the 1000 or so deaths a year from diamorphine and/or methadone.Clinical Toxicology 01/2014; · 2.59 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: The use of pure nitrogen gas to commit suicide has recently become more popular, although suicides involving nitrogen oxide fumes have been occasionally reported in the past. The cause of death in such cases is attributed to asphyxia due to forced depletion of oxygen, a subcategory of a phenomenon dubbed environmental hypoxia. A case of a 26-year-old man who committed suicide by inhaling nitrogen through a plastic bag is reported. The exact method of suicide used here is one of the many described in detail on the Web.The American journal of forensic medicine and pathology: official publication of the National Association of Medical Examiners 10/2013; · 0.71 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: Due to important alteration caused by long time decomposition, the gases in human bodies buried for more than a year have not been investigated. For the first time, the results of gas analysis sampled from bodies recently exhumed after 30 years are presented. Adipocere formation has prevented the bodies from too important alteration, and gaseous areas were identified. The sampling was performed with airtight syringes assisted by multi-detector computed tomography (MDCT) in those specific areas. The important amount of methane (CH4), coupled to weak amounts of hydrogen (H2) and carbon dioxide (CO2), usual gaseous alteration indicators, have permitted to confirm methanogenesis mechanism for long period of alteration. H2 and CO2 produced during the first stages of the alteration process were consumed through anaerobic oxidation by methanogenic bacteria, generating CH4.Deutsche Zeitschrift für die Gesamte Gerichtliche Medizin 05/2014; · 2.69 Impact Factor
Toxicological analysis after asphyxial suicide with helium and a plastic bag
V. Auwaerter*, M. Grosse Perdekamp, J. Kempf, U. Schmidt, W. Weinmann, S. Pollak
Institute of Legal Medicine, University Hospital Freiburg, Albertstr. 9, 79104 Freiburg, Germany
Received 9 October 2006; received in revised form 1 March 2007; accepted 2 March 2007
Available online 12 July 2007
A 23-year-old man was found on a raised hide in lying position, the head wrapped in a plastic bag connected with a helium gas cylinder by a
polypropylene tube. The autopsy did not show any specific findings nor did the routine toxicological analysis reveal significant information
regarding the cause of death (BAC 0.9 mg/g, diphenhydramine 0.81 mg/ml in heart serum). For the detection of helium in the lungs, gas samples
frombothlungswerecollectedby amethodensuringminimaldilution.Gas analyseswereperformedusingaGC–MSwithasplit–splitlessinjector
and a headspace syringe. As carrier gas the commonly used helium was replaced by nitrogen. Helium was found in clearly elevated concentrations
in gas samples from both lungs. Therefore, suffocation by breathing helium enriched, and thus oxygen deficient atmosphere, can strongly be
assumed as the cause of death.
# 2007 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Suicide; Asphyxiation; Helium; Headspace GC–MS; Post mortem analysis
deficient gas atmosphere are described in literature, e.g., [1–5].
Among them there are cases ofaccidentalsuffocation aswell as
cases of suicide. In the last years, right-to-die activists
promoted suicide methods by asphyxiation with use of gases
as being relatively quick and painless . These methods leave
hardly any post-mortem evidence, and therefore, raise a serious
challenge for police authorities and analysts. As these ideas are
quickly spread in Internet threads, it can be assumed that
in future a growing number of similar cases will occur.
Technically important gases with low toxicity and a pre-
dominant suffocating effect are helium, argon, nitrogen and
methane. The analytical detection of these gases requires great
efforts in regard to sampling and careful choice of analytical
techniques. In most of the cases described in literature no
analytical evidence was supplied.
2. Case history
A 23-year-old man was found dead on a raised hide in lying
position. A plastic bag connected to a helium gas cylinder by a
polypropylene tube was put over his head and fixed with a
rubber band. An almost empty bottle of tequila and a blister
pack of a drug against travel sickness containing diphenhy-
dramine as well as a pack of ibuprofen tablets were found next
to the body. Considering the scene it was assumed that helium
assisted asphyxiation could have been the cause of death.
During autopsy, unspecific signs of intoxication including an
aqueous swelling of the brain and of the lungs and an acute
hyperemia of the kidneys were noticed but no evidence of
severe illness or injury could be found. The routine
toxicological analysis showed a BAC of 0.9 mg/g and
diphenhydramine was found in heart serum (0.81 mg/ml) and
urine (2.2 mg/ml). Ibuprofen was found in urine and in the
3. Material and methods
3.1. Collection of gas samples
During autopsy both lungs were subsequently collected in a plastic box
filled with water. The box was covered with a lid, leaving as little air as possible
in the box. The box was turned upside down, and using a syringe fitted with a
T-piece, the residualairwas suckedout ofthe box and discarded.Then longand
thick metal needles were pierced into the side of the box to manipulate the lung
and press out the gas. The gas volumes escaping from the lung were collected
with the syringe from one corner of the box and were pressed into a headspace
vial which had been filled with water and crimped closely before. For this
purpose the septum of the vial cap was punctured with a second cannula, and
Forensic Science International 170 (2007) 139–141
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +49 761 203 6862; fax: +49 761 203 6858.
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (V. Auwaerter).
0379-0738/$ – see front matter # 2007 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.
holding the vial with the bottom up when filling the gas sample in via the
septum, the water was displaced through the second cannula. The sampling
procedure is illustrated in Fig. 1. For comparison, the same procedure was
carried out with another autopsy case without pre-mortal exposure to helium
In order to get an impression of the helium concentrations in the lungs
reached by inhaling pure helium gas and for the purpose of method control a
volunteer deeply exhaled and then inhaled helium once. Directly after a part of
the exhalation gas was collected into a headspace vial which was crimped
closely immediately. The samewas donewith the breath of the second and third
exhalation. All samples were analyzed for helium using headspace GC–MS in
selected ion monitoring (SIM) mode.
Gas analyses were performed using a GC–MS with a split–splitless injector
(HP 5890 GC/5970 MSD, split ratio 3:1, flow 1 mL/min, injector temperature
100 8C, oven: 120 8C isothermal, interface temperature 200 8C, SIM: m/z = 4,
16, 18, 32, 40, 44) and a headspace syringe (manual injection, injectionvolume
500 mL). The GC column used was an Optima11 MS (Macherey-Nagel,
Du ¨ren, Germany; i.d. 0.25 mm, film thickness 0.25 mm, l = 25 m). As carrier
gas the commonly used helium was replaced by nitrogen.
4. Results and discussion
In Fig. 2 the obtained chromatograms for a gas sample of the
case under investigation and the negative control case are
shown. The signal at 1.4 min in the left chromatogram
originates from helium as proved by injection of pure helium
beforehand. In the negative control (right chromatogram) no
helium was detected. Thus, the ante mortem inhalation of
helium was proven and suffocation by breathing helium
enriched, and therefore, oxygen deficient atmosphere can
strongly be assumed as the cause of death.
From the helium inhalation experiment it can be seen that
after three breathing cycles most of the inhaled helium gas is
already exhaled (Fig. 3). This finding confirms that rapid loss of
analyte can be a serious problem in cases with suspected gas
inhalation. Therefore, sampling has to be carried out as soon as
possible after the incident and measures have to be taken to
avoid further loss of analyte during the sampling process.
In general, the analytical detection of the suffocating gas is
recommended in death cases with suspected involvement of
technical gases because it provides a higher certainty in the
evaluation of an assumed cause of death. Even if there is a
Fig. 1. Illustration of the sampling procedure.
Fig. 2. Headspace GC–MS–SIM-chromatograms of gas samples. (Left side)
Gas sample from the deceased, (right side) gas sample from a control case
without prior exposure to helium (same sampling procedure).
V. Auwaerter et al./Forensic Science International 170 (2007) 139–141140
longer time span between death and sampling (e.g., 3–5 days
The presented HS–GC–MS method provides a suitable
technique for qualitative detection of helium in gas samples.
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supply, J. Forensic Sci. 32 (1987) 1098–1102.
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case by suffocation in an argon atmosphere, Forensic Sci. Int. 143 (2004)
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Ishizu, A case of suffocation by an advertising balloon filled with pure
helium gas, Acta Med. Okayama. 56 (2002) 53–55.
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of the deathing counterculture, Death Stud. 25 (2001) 387–401.
Fig. 3. Headspace GC–MS–SIM-chromatograms of respiratory gas sampled
after three consecutive exhalations following a single inhalation of helium.
V. Auwaerter et al./Forensic Science International 170 (2007) 139–141141