December 8, 2000
Volume XXXIII, No. 39

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CLS graduate student recognized for toxicology research

Allied Health

Collaboration between the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences in the School of Allied Health Sciences and the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office is producing winning results.

Tiffany Flowers, a graduate student in the Clinical Laboratory Sciences Program, has been recognized for research she is doing in the Forensic Toxicology Laboratory at the Medical Examiner’s Office, which is on the UTHSC campus in the Bexar County Forensic Science Center.

The Southwestern Association of Toxicologists presented Flowers a $300 check in recognition of her presentation "The Scope of Routine Drug Testing on Drug Recognition Experts (DRE)" at the association’s regional meeting Nov. 2-4 in Oklahoma City. Out of 15 presenters, Flowers was one of two selected for the award. Her presentation outlined research she performed during a six-week internship this past summer in the Forensic Toxicology Laboratory.

With the help of two Forensic Toxicology Laboratory chemists, Flowers worked to determine whether or not performing an alkaline drug screening on every individual arrested for DWI or DUI would provide sufficient additional toxicology evidence to warrant routine testing on every case. Cases are submitted by a Drug Recognition Expert, a police officer trained to recognize the physiological symptoms of someone who is intoxicated.

"With drunken-driving-related deaths up this year, I am glad to be a part of new research that will aid police officers and prosecuting attorneys in DWI and DUI cases," Flowers said. DWI is the abbreviation for Driving While Intoxicated and DUI is short for Driving Under the Influence.

Flowers and her team reviewed 168 cases submitted by DREs over a 31-month period. Of 156 alkaline screens performed, 40 percent were positive. In 87 percent of the cases, the alkaline screen confirmed the results of the routine analytical approach used by a DRE. In 13 percent of the cases, additional information was obtained. Flowers’ findings proved that although an alkaline drug screening is not recommended in every DWI or DUI case, the test could aid DRE police officers and prosecuting attorneys in some cases.

Dr. George B. Kudolo, associate professor of clinical chemistry and coordinator of the Graduate Toxicology Program, is Flowers’ adviser.

"Collaboration between the Health Science Center and the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office is beneficial to both parties," said Dr. Kudolo. "Health Science Center students interact with and learn from professionals already in the field, and Medical Examiner’s Office personnel benefit from the students’ research findings, which they can apply immediately.

With this project behind her, Flowers is poised for her next big research undertaking titled "Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB): Evaluation of Current Analytical Methodologies and Determination of Endogenous Postmortem Concentrations in Biological Samples." Flowers recently was awarded $6,855.51 by the South Texas Health Research Center to carry out her research, beginning this December, at the Medical Examiner’s Office under the direction of Chief Toxicologist Dr. Gary W. Kunsman.

Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB) is a drug that was first used as a therapeutic agent in Europe in the 1960s. Recently the drug has surfaced in the United States as a drug of abuse. The most current problem associated with GHB use is its application as a date-rape drug. A perpetrator pours the drug into his date’s drink without her knowing. The drug causes the victim to become sedated, making it easier for him to rape her. Since GHB also causes amnesia, victims have a difficult time recalling events leading up to and during an attack, thus making conviction of perpetrators difficult.

Flowers will evaluate methods of detecting GHB in 100 postmortem cases and will work to differentiate between GHB that is naturally produced by the body after death, and GHB consumed by the person before death.

Dr. Kunsman said this research is important because it can provide objective evidence supporting the subjective reports of witnesses and police officers concerning the use of GHB.

"The use of GHB as a drug of abuse and a date-rape drug is an issue of important public interest," said Dr. Kunsman. "The number of requests for GHB analyses that this laboratory receives is increasing, and we are currently unable to perform them. Ms. Flowers’ project is one of great importance to our community and will assist this public health agency in performing its mission."