White Paper – Forensic Community Drug Database Conceptualization

White Paper – Forensic Community Drug Database Conceptualization


February 2024


The National Institute of Justice (NIJ)—in partnership with its Forensic Technology Center of Excellence (FTCOE) at RTI International and the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—convened a virtual Medicolegal Death Investigation Data Exchange Working Group (MDI-Data-WG) beginning in September 2020. This working group was formed to:  

  • Document the types of data that are commonly exchanged with public health and public safety partners and determine collective usage points for medicolegal death investigations (MDIs);  
  • Provide recommendations on how to improve the naming process for emerging drugs;  
  • Guide the drug mapping/classification process; and  
  • Recommend needed enhancements to the operation of exchanging forensic data with other organizations. 

Medicolegal death investigations commonly encounter drugs, drug metabolites, and other related substances. Public health and safety agencies are tasked with tracking drugs and related outcomes, including fatal and nonfatal overdoses. To accomplish this task in an accurate and timely manner, there is a need for the standardization of drug names and nomenclature, as well as classification and taxonomy. In addition, there is a need for a collective and comprehensive resource, such as a forensic community drug database, that the medicolegal death investigation community can use to learn about drugs, linking associated chemical information, published articles, and other literature. Developing a system that would allow the forensic community and other collaborators to determine which drug terms are the same (i.e., synonyms) and the relationship between the drugs (e.g., metabolite, precursor), would benefit the death investigation, public health, and public safety communities, as well as forensic science research. 

Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence report was provided by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice (15PNIJ-21-GK-02192-MUMU). This work was also supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Contract Number HHSM500201200008I, Task Order Number 200-2016-F-91567).

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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