Sheffield mortuary and coroner embrace fingerprint drug testing in investigations into cause of death

The office of the senior coroner for the district of South Yorkshire (West) and public mortuary staff in Sheffield are using a new sweat-based drug test to assist investigations into cause of death.

The Sheffield Medico-Legal Centre, which houses the city’s public mortuary and the offices and court of the senior coroner for the district of South Yorkshire (West), are using the new fingertip-based drug screening system to carry out a simple, non-invasive drug test on the deceased that its maker, Intelligent Fingerprinting, says can quickly identify potential drug use.

The test works by analysing sweat deposits that remain on the fingertips—even after death. A portable reader analyses samples taken within the post-mortem suite, providing test results for multiple drug groups simultaneously in under 10 minutes.

Maxine Coe, mortuary manager at the Sheffield Medico-Legal Centre, commented: “Having a simple, non-invasive and rapid fingertip drug screen is already proving a valuable source of additional information, giving the coroner’s office important early intelligence on potential drug use.”

“Our trials of the Intelligent Fingerprinting system showed that it’s very easy and quick to use, saves time and allows us to make smarter decisions about where further (potentially expensive) toxicology tests may or may not be required.”

A spokesperson for the coroner’s office for the district of South Yorkshire (West) added: “It is the coroner’s function to determine the medical cause of death. Drug use—and whether this contributed to the death—is a growing factor in our work.”

“The testing so far has suggested that this type of device will be a really useful tool for early toxicology indication, albeit not intended to be evidential. It should alert us to the cases that need to be subject to full toxicology, and in some cases, may obviate the need for any toxicology tests at all.”

Intelligent Fingerprinting business development director Dr Paul Yates praised the team at the Sheffield Medico-Legal Centre for playing “a pivotal role” in carrying out the initial Innovate UK-funded feasibility project when the test was under development.