Why six weeks for toxicology results? (but wait, there's more!)

Me being me I probably missed about 19 threads on the subject but I’m slow, so either indulge or link me.

Let’s say a seemingly-healthy 50-year-old unexpectedly drops dead. The victim (living or dead) is brought to the ER where someting is diagnosed - heart, stroke, something like that. Regardless, the body is a dead one. From personal experience I can tell you that about four hours after my uncle was brought into the ER we knew that he died because his heart exploded (there’s probably a term more technical than “massive heart attack”, but that’s what killed him). I’m assuming that was known because in the course of treating him the emergency personnel opened him up to fix him and could see it, but I don’t know. If someone keels over from a stroke or brain aneurysm - do they have to take the top of the head off for a look-see, or are there other tests they can run to reach a conclusion?

But let’s say the ER couldn’t actually see what killed an otherwise healthy man and they have to do a drug test. I assume they take blood, urine, tissue, and hair samples. How is a blood test done, and how long does it take? And urine - is it just like an instantaneous pregnancy check? Hair samples - what do they do, grow cultures in a medium and it takes six weeks to see the results (much like crystals on coal with an ammonia solution)?

There’s a great deal of tests that need to be run. There is no all-inclusive “look for every intoxicant known to man” test. There is not a great deal of urgency either-- because, well, the person is dead. I am sure the medicos will come along with more detailed information and reasoning.

There was a lot of urgency for Michael Jackson, since his doctor might leave the country before they have enough to arrest him.

No. Shit. Really? Are you being serious? Because I never would have guessed that. Do you have any idea of what “standard” tests are run, how they’re run, or how long they take?

Why would there be “standard tests”?

You run a test to disprove a specific hypothesis. In this instance, you form a hypothesis that Jackson died from X drug or poison, and then you test for that X, or its residue.

The hypothesis you form depends on other evidence – e.g. we observe skin discolouration, or cyanosis, or some other symptom, and this suggests the possibility of X, so we test for X. If we don’t find X we form another hypothesis and test that, and so forth.

Of course, we can simultaneously test two or more hypotheses. But sometimes a hypothesis will only be formed as a consequence of the result of some other test.

There might be some drugs or poisons that are very commonly hypothesised, and I suppose you could describe the tests for them as “standard tests”, but unless they are the only tests you intend to run, the time they will take is not going to determine the time for the entire testing process.

I’d imagine is that six weeks is the outside time frame that the pathologist estimates he may need to run the various tests that he may want to run, given what he knows about this death at this stage. As his investigation progresses, he gets more information and he refines his hypotheses, this estimate may change.

As to how long tests take, there are a variety of investigative techniques. Some, e.g. those which involve culturing organisms, can take days or even weeks. There’s also the issue that lab resources and personnel are not unlimited. Sure, there may be priority afforded to some tests if they are relevant to a criminal investigation. But on the other hand a pathology lab could well be dealing with many tests which are relevant to many criminal investigations. There has to be some protocol for assigning priority to the tests in hand, but only one test will get the top priority.