International Journal of Legal Medicine

, Volume 132, Issue 2, pp 415–424 | Cite as

The feasibility of physiologically based pharmacokinetic modeling in forensic medicine illustrated by the example of morphine

  • Nadine SchaeferEmail author
  • Daniel Moj
  • Thorsten Lehr
  • Peter H. Schmidt
  • Frank Ramsthaler
Case Report


In forensic medicine, expert opinion is often required concerning dose and time of intake of a substance, especially in the context of fatal intoxications. In the present case, a 98-year-old man died 4 days after admission to a hospital due to a femur neck fracture following a domestic fall in his retirement home. As he had obtained high morphine doses in the context of palliative therapy and a confusion of his supplemental magnesium tablets with a diuretic by the care retirement home was suspected by the relatives, a comprehensive postmortem examination was performed. Forensic toxicological GC- and LC-MS analyses revealed, besides propofol, ketamine, and a metamizole metabolite in blood and urine, toxic blood morphine concentrations of approximately 3 mg/l in femoral and 5 mg/l in heart blood as well as 2, 7, and 10 mg/kg morphine in brain, liver, and lung, respectively. A physiologically based pharmacokinetic (PBPK) model was developed and applied to examine whether the morphine concentrations were (i) in agreement with the morphine doses documented in the clinical records or (ii) due to an excessive morphine administration. PBPK model simulations argue against an overdosing of morphine. The immediate cause of death was respiratory and cardiovascular failure due to pneumonia following a fall, femur neck fracture, and immobilization accompanied by a high and probably toxic concentration of morphine, attributable to the administration under palliative care conditions. The presented case indicates that PBPK modeling can be a useful tool in forensic medicine, especially in question of a possible drug overdosing.


Palliative care Morphine Physiologically based pharmacokinetic modeling Forensic medicine 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Legal MedicineSaarland UniversityHomburg (Saar)Germany
  2. 2.Clinical PharmacySaarland UniversitySaarbrückenGermany

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