Toxicology lab installed to test poison samples

The forensic department at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) got its first toxicology laboratory today.

Toxicology is the study of poisonous chemicals and drugs and how a person or other organism reacts to them. The need for a toxicology laboratory was felt since cases needing toxicology report were being sent to India, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka for testing resulting in delayed reports.

Talking to Business Bhutan, forensic specialist with the forensic department at JDWNRH, Dhan Raj Giri, said that with the installation of toxicology laboratory, in-depth research can be done on poisonous plants and the dangers they pose.

A toxicology laboratory was deemed necessary as hospitals across the country have to deal with cases related to plant and food poisoning, drug abuse and pesticides. The forensic department also comes across cases like arsenic poisoning, and water contamination where health officials look for presence of petroleum products or industrial solvents in the water.

Among others, Dhan Raj Giri also said that the test parameters for forensic toxicology are flavors and fragrances in food, cosmetics, perfumes, venoms, and metabolites.

“Sometimes we get unknown samples from the police asking for chemicals in a solution,” he said adding that these samples can be tested from urine, blood and organs during the autopsy for drug and poison cases. Earlier without the toxicology, the samples sent outside Bhutan for testing took more than six months for the results. “Not all cases are sent for testing outside Bhutan except genuine ones,” said Dhan Raj Giri . Also, unless there is a legal letter from the court in cases of murder or suspect poisoning, the samples are not sent for testing outside Bhutan.

“It is very costly to send each sample for testing and also time consuming,” he said.

Until now, the forensic department was using the rapid testing kit supplied by the Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency to test drugs like opium, morphine, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), amphetamine, and codeine among others, which can be tested only through urine.

According to Dhan Raj Giri, there are high incidences of positive tests for marijuana in the country, followed by amphetamine and morphine.

However, with the new toxicology laboratory, it will be easier and faster to get the results and the machine will also help check the quality and potency of drugs that are being sold in pharmacies across the country. “The machine that we use gives both qualitative and quantitative results,” he said.

Lucky Wangmo from Thimphu