PMCT Potpourri of Unnatural Deaths

PMCT Potpourri of Unnatural Deaths


This webinar originally occurred on May 18, 2021
Duration: 1 hour


In the sixth and final webinar, participants were introduced to the use of PMCT in the investigation of a variety of unnatural deaths not discussed in previous webinars.  Topics included overdose deaths, select asphyxial mechanisms of death, and sharp force injury.

Common PMCT findings in overdose deaths include cerebral edema, pulmonary edema, and urinary bladder distension. Less commonly, pills or drug packets may be identified by PMCT. At the New Mexico OMI, PMCT in conjunction with a point-of-care urine drug screen (UDS) is used to determine which suspected overdose deaths require a full autopsy. Full autopsy examination may be deemed less necessary in cases with a positive UDS and PMCT negative for other causes of death, provided that other investigative criteria (e.g. scene findings, age, medical history) are satisfied.

The PMCT appearance of select asphyxial injuries, including choking, drowning, strangulation, and hanging, will be reviewed. Positive findings include foreign bodies in the airways in suspected choking cases, fluid collections in the lung fields or sinus cavities in cases of suspected drowning, or neck injuries such as a fractured hyoid or thyroid cartilage in cases of suspected strangulation. PMCT may also be used to rule out other pathologies or trauma in non-suspicious, suicidal hanging deaths.

Finally, participants were introduced to examples of the PMCT appearance of sharp force injuries, including soft tissue injury, underlying injuries to bone or cartilage, and in some cases, retained foreign bodies, such as knives or knife tips.

Detailed Learning Objectives

  1. Participants will be familiar with common PMCT findings in overdose deaths.
  2. Participants will appreciate the limitations of PMCT evaluation of the airways in cases of suspected drowning and choking.
  3. Participants will have a basic understanding of how PMCT can be utilized to help evaluate sharp force injuries.
  4. Participants will be able to identify the benefits and limitations to the use of PMCT to identify potential injuries and focus autopsy examinations in unnatural deaths.


  • Lauren Dvorscak, MD | Assistant Chief Medical Examiner, Assistant Professor of Pathology

Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence webinar has been provided by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this webinar are those of the presenter(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Contact us at with any questions and subscribe to our newsletter for notifications.

Related Content

A Landscape Study of Computed Tomography Scanners for Postmortem Applications

Date December 2023 Overview Advanced imaging technologies help medicolegal death investigation (MDI) personnel assess cause of death (COD) and manner of death (MOD). The Medical Examiner and Coroner (MEC) community utilize postmortem computed tomography (PMCT) to obtain imaging data to…

FLN-TWG: A Roadmap to Improve Research and Technology Transition in Forensic Science

← Back to FLN-TWG Main Page  Forensic Laboratory Needs Technology Working Group (FLN-TWG) The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), in partnership with the Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCOE) at RTI International, formed the Forensic Laboratory Needs Technology Working Group…

Landscape Study of Next Generation Sequencing Technologies for Forensic Applications

Date April 2023 Overview The National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ’s) Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCOE), led by RTI International, provides valuable resources that promote the use of novel and innovative technologies in the forensic community. Next Generation Sequencing (NGS)…