During advanced stages of decomposition, extensive tissue degradation has occurred. The samples typically taken during a postmortem examination, such as blood and urine are no longer present, but hair and skin can remain. The superficial most part of the skin is the stratum corneum, which acts as a protective barrier to prevent the uptake of harmful substances in the environment. During the decomposition stage of natural mummification, the stratum corneum changes its structure to tanned-like and brittle due to the desiccation process. Precocious mummification occurs when mummification develops in less than one month, but this process is not widely reported in literature. If improperly identified, precocious mummification can have a detrimental effect on prematurely estimating the time since death. The analysis of drugs in postmortem samples can provide an insight into the antemortem and post-mortem behaviours that may influence the context of cause and manner of death. An in vitro method was used to precisely control the experimental variables of drug concentration and duration of maceration. This study explores the in-situ identification of codeine, acetaminophen and caffeine in precociously mummified porcine skin using a non-destructive approach with Raman and Infrared spectroscopy. The study aimed to identify whether drug concentration affected absorption into the skin; if the duration of maceration affected the partial permeability of the skin for drug absorption; and whether NaCl concentration impacted absorption. The results showed that Raman and FTIR-ATR spectra of the skin samples containing different concentrations of the drugs were significantly similar to the untreated blank skin spectra, indicating that no drug from the tablet had been identified in the skin samples. Through FTIR-ATR analysis, the clarity and intensity of the peaks produced characteristic patterns of the duration of maceration. Longer maceration resulted in less intense and less defined peaks due to the breakdown of the proteins and phospholipids within the stratum corneum. It was thought that maceration could aid in the absorption of the drugs, which remains unclear due to no identification. Further confirmation and quantification techniques using HPLC, or GC-MS will need to be applied to support postmortem transdermal drug absorption theories. Precocious mummification has additionally been successfully mimicked and can be applied to future studies exploring tissue decomposition and drug absorption.
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