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CJC-F, CJC-F Announcements, CJC-F Forensic Toxicology
Introduction 

Can drugs like cocaine make one turn violent after consumption? In September last year, a man (Andrew Ng Chuan Hock) was sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment after he assaulted his elderly aunt and  swung a chopper at a healthcare assistant who came to check on his aunt. Investigations revealed that the man had likely consumed drugs at the time of the offence and the psychiatrist who examined him found him to be in a state of drug-induced psychosis at the time of the crime.  

 

This case is one of many across the world where substance abuse has been at the heart of violent crimes. In this article, we take a closer look at how and why cocaine in particular seems to encourage and perpetuate violent crime. 


Goldstein suggests three main reasons for how cocaine perpetuates violence – (1) systemic violence relating to drug distribution, (2) psychopharmacologically driven crime (a.k.a. drug-induced violent behaviour), and (3) economically compulsive crime (i.e. for money to support drug habit). We’ll focus more on (1) and (2) in this article.

Image taken from: https://www.google.com/amp/s/theconversation.com/amp/researchers-block-cocaine-craving-and-addiction-with-a-special-skin-graft-103223

 

Systemic violence

Systemic violence has been found in the powder cocaine and crack distribution markets. This refers to violence perpetuated in the process of cocaine distribution, which can be seen as the black market equivalent of economic regulation (since such markets cannot rely on the legal system to enforce their agreements).

Some researchers believe that systemic violence is actually the main contributor to crack-related violent crimes. Such violence usually has one of two purposes – internally to discipline and control distributors along the hierarchy, and externally to protect selling territory for cocaine.



Psychopharmacologically driven crime

How does cocaine affect the brain in the first place?

Cocaine blocks the reuptake of several neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. This creates a build-up of these neurotransmitters in the synapses (spaces between the axons and dendrites of two neurons). Of the neurotransmitters, the effects of dopamine play a particularly significant role in addiction to cocaine. 

While dopamine build-up happens throughout the neurons in the brain, an area of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens (NAc) seems to be particularly affected. Stimulation by dopamine causes neurons in the NAc to produce feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, whereby the amount produced by cocaine exceeds that of those caused by natural biological functions. This causes cocaine to be so addictive as the feelings of pleasure encourage repeated usage. 

Image taken from: https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/how-does-cocaine-produce-its-effects


Additionally, cocaine also affects other areas of the brain such as the hippocampus and amygdala, otherwise known as the memory centres. These memory centres help people to remember what led to the feelings of pleasure (corresponding to the release of dopamine in the NAc). As such, when someone experiences a cocaine high, memories of the people, places, intense pleasure and other things associated with the drug-taking are imprinted in the hippocampus and amygdala. As such, returning to those places or even just encountering drug-related objects can already trigger the emotionally-loaded (and pleasurable) memories from previous cocaine uses and a desire to repeat the experience. 

In addition, cocaine also damages the frontal cortex, which is the area of the brain that would normally allow the recognition of negative effects and forgo pleasurable but possibly harmful experiences if necessary. In essence, the frontal cortex is what would enable people to stop taking drugs (or not take them in the first place). However, cocaine damages the frontal cortex of which ultimately damages its inhibitory function in preventing someone from taking cocaine. 

 

Cocaine can also affect a user’s mood even from the first use. Mood swings can result from frequent use. Since cocaine stimulates the nervous system, there are many symptoms of cocaine usage that contribute to violence – a feeling of invincibility, increased confidence, reduced inhibitions, and higher pain tolerance. Cocaine users are also prone to anxious, agitated, aggressive, and paranoid behaviour. These might be due to the effects of cocaine on the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, all of which are relevant in psychiatric symptoms. 

Cocaine effectively encourages violent behaviour, either as a result of drug use or perpetuated by the user’s own expectation of such effects. 

However, psychopharmacologically driven crime may be the least important explanation for the relationship between cocaine and violent crimes. Studies have not shown cocaine use as a strong or sole cause for violent crimes as a result of psychopharmacological effects. 



Legal ramifications

Around the world, countries such as Portugal had decriminalised the personal use and possession of drugs like cocaine. Singapore, nevertheless, retains a strong stance against drug use and if one is caught with possession, consumption and trafficking of cocaine, there will be major legal ramifications attached, with the most severe consequences reserved for trafficking offences. 

This is because, as the High Court in  Dinesh Singh Bhatia s/o Amarjeet Singh v Public Prosecutor had observed, “withdrawal symptoms [of cocaine usage] were commonplace. It could also cause psychosis in the shape of a feeling of persecution, which might have extremely dangerous consequences.” This is the reason why the High Court was of the opinion that the “usage [of cocaine] cannot be countenanced or tolerated in any measure whatsoever [as] its potency and addictive allure have caused untold misery.” 

As such, the High Court took the position that the “need for deterrent sentencing in connection with cocaine-related offences is both axiomatic and compelling”, given that a “permissive culture of cocaine consumption cannot be allowed to take root in Singapore.” 

 

Cocaine is classified as a Class A drug in Singapore. Under section 8(b) of the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), consumption of any controlled or specific drugs (which includes cocaine) is an offence.  


The punishment for such is harsh as well.
The maximum penalty for engaging in such a behaviour includes 10 years of imprisonment, or a fine of $20,000 or both. Worse, under the MDA, those convicted of trafficking more than 30 grammes of cocaine face the death penalty.  

In conclusion, it is important to understand the serious legal ramifications of drug consumption in Singapore. Regardless of whether an individual is consuming the drugs and remaining within the confines of their home, or going on an assault spree, the law will not compromise its tough stance on drugs. 



References
  1. The Relationship between Cocaine and Violence. Life Works. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://www.lifeworkscommunity.com/blog/the-relationship-between-cocaine-abuse-and-violence 
  2. United States Sentencing Commission. (1995, February). Cocaine & Federal Sentencing Policy. https://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/news/congressional-testimony-and-reports/drug-topics/199502-rtc-cocaine-sentencing-policy/CHAP5-8.pdf
  3. Carvalho, H. B. D., & Seibel, S. D. (2009). Crack cocaine use and its relationship with violence and HIV. Clinics, 64(9). https://doi.org/10.1590/s1807-59322009000900006
  4. Yusof, Z. M. (2020, February 10). Seven Weeks jail for samurai-wannabe for terrifying MRT commuters. The New Paper. Retrieved February 23, 2022, from https://tnp.straitstimes.com/news/others/seven-weeks-jail-samurai-wannabe-terrifying-mrt-commuters
  5. Louisa Tang (15 September 2021). Over 5 years’ jail for chopper-wielding man who attacked elderly aunt, healthcare assistant. Today. Last retrieved 29 March 2022 from: Over 5 years’ jail for chopper-wielding man who attacked elderly aunt, healthcare assistant – TODAY 
  6. HBO. 2022. Euphoria | Official Website for the HBO Series | HBO.com. [online] Available at: <https://www.hbo.com/euphoria> [Accessed 23 February 2022]. 
  7. Eric J Nestler (2005). The Neurobiology of Cocaine Addiction. Sci Pract Perspect., 3(1): 4–10. doi: 10.1151/spp05314
  8. W. Alexander Morton (1999). Cocaine and Psychiatric Symptoms. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry, 1(4): 109–113. 
  9. Zimmerman JL (2012). Cocaine intoxication. Crit Care Clin., 28(4):517-26.
  10. Wong Pei Ting (2 March 2018). Real victims of war against drugs not traffickers, but innocent children: Shanmugam. Last retrieved 25 March 2022 from:  https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/real-victims-war-against-drugs-not-traffickers-innocent-children-shanmugam 
  11.  Dinesh Singh Bhatia s/o Amarjeet Singh v Public Prosecutor [2005] SGHC 63
  12. Mike Tan and Tiffany Tan (22 January 2020). Counting the Cost: Drug Abuse and Drug Crime in Singapore. Ministry of Home Affairs. Last retrieved 2 March 2022 from: https://www.mha.gov.sg/home-team-news/story/detail/counting-the-cost-drug-abuse-and-drug-crime-in-singapore
  13. Central Narcotics Bureau (7 June 2021). New Release. Last retrieved 2 March 2022 from: https://www.cnb.gov.sg/docs/default-source/drug-situation-report-documents/cnb-annual-statistics-2020-final.pdf 
  14. Psychology Today (25 October 2021). Cocaine Use Disorder. Last retrieved 2 March 2022 from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/sg/conditions/cocaine-use-disorder 


Author’s Biography

Nicole Teo is currently pursuing a degree in Law and in the middle of her second year of the programme. She is aspiring to be a prosecutor one day, which sparked her interest in all things related to criminal law, including forensic science


Yangyang is currently a freshman pursuing a degree in law. He has a strong interest in all aspects of crime, including both the criminal law and the forensic elements. 

Edited by: Celine Cheow and Cherylynn Tan

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CJC-F, CJC-F Announcements, CJC-F Forensic Toxicology
Rape Drugs: An Introduction

What are in your drinks? The use of rape drugs to faciliate the commission of sexual offences has been something that is of a growing concern to countries in the Asian region lately. For one, Japan has recently experienced a surge in drug-related date rape while Hong Kong has recommended stiffer penalites for traffickers of a common date rape drug than that of traffickers of cannabis. Even locally, an Indian national had once spiked his flatmate’s drink with the plan of raping her afterwards while she was asleep. While it was fortitous that the victim had spat out the contaminated water after realising that it tasted bitter, the prevelance of the use of rape drugs is not something that should be taken lightly.


Image taken from: https://sussexvisitor.com/drink-spiking-has-been-a-hazard-that-has-posed-a-risk-to-generation-after-generation/

Types of Common Rape Drugs

Any substance given to someone with the effect of lowering sexual inhibition and enhance the possibility of unwanted sexual intercourse can be used as a date rape drug. The most common types of date rape drugs used are Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) and Rohypnol. These drugs are commonly mixed with alcohol and given to victims. Victims often lose consciousness and/or have their awareness of the surroundings drast

How Do Rape Drugs Affect Our Bodies?

Rape drugs works because they have chemicals in them that react with specific binding sites in the central nervous system (CNS). When a molecule binds to the site, the cells are able to take in the molecule and metabolise it, producing certain effects. The chemicals in rape drugs are similarly received via receptor sites that are able to recognise the shape of the molecules, and once this happens, the drug takes effect by depressing the action of the CNS, leaving victims with the common symptoms such as unconsciousness and a significantly reduced awareness of their surroundings. Details of some of the common drugs used to spike drinks are described shown below.

Image taken from: https://www.detoxplusuk.com/rohypnol/

Rohypnol, also known as Flunitrazepam, can take effect as soon as 30 minutes after ingestion. It is also relatively inexpensive and thus easy to obtain. Rohypnol belongs to a class called benzodiazepines, which bind to gamma-aminobutyric acid type A (GABA-A) receptors that are responsible for most of the inhibitory neurotransmission in the CNS resulting in effects such as sedation and relaxation. People who have ingested Rohypnol become heavily sedated and can fall unconscious, thus allowing them to become easy pickings for predators. The effects of the drug can last up to 8 hours, and victims often are unable to recall their experiences while the drug is in effect.

Image taken from: https://www.google.com.sg/amp/s/www.bbc.com/news/uk-56571171.amp

Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, or GHB for short, is a central nervous system ((CNS) depressant. It can be found naturally in mammals, and acts on both GHB-specific receptors and GABA-B receptors to relax the CNS through inhibitions of various mechanisms. GHB might also affect other neurotransmitter systems, such as the opioids, dopamine, serotonin, glutamate, and acetylcholine systems. It often comes in the form of a highly soluble sodium salt that can be ingested orally, either as a liquid or powder. The substance is commonly added to alcoholic beverages, and once ingested, can greatly enhance the effects of alcohol consumption, rendering the victim unconscious. The effects of GHB-induced sleep can last up to 5 hours, during which the victim might not awaken, making them vulnerable to assault. In addition, GHB is rapidly metabolised in the body, making it difficult to detect traces of the drug in the victim’s system if the crime is reported too late.

How do you know if your drink is spiked?

Unfortunately, it can be quite difficult to detect if your drink is spiked. Most drugs used to spike alcoholic drinks are tasteless, colourless and odourless. Furthermore, a spiked drink could take 15-30 minutes before it shows any effect, but these effects could last for several hours. GHB interferes with GABAergic neurotransmission and this drug can be considered a GABA-B agonist. The neurons that release GABA are mostly localised in the hippocampus, cortex and amygdala. GHB receptors are located in these sites, in pre- and post-synaptic cells and show high affinity for these G-protein coupled receptors.

Some common symptoms of drink spiking are:
– Unusual drunkenness after drinking the same amount
– Blurred vision
– Dizziness, confusion
– Nausea and/or vomiting
– Difficulty breathing
– Muscle spasms or seizures
– Speech difficulties and slurring
– Hallucinations
– Tiredness
– Loss of consciousness
– An unusually long hangover
– A severe hangover when you did not drink alcohol
– Having gaps in your memory about what happened the previous night

Image taken from: http://persuasion-and-influence.blogspot.com/2019/03/staying-safe-from-drink-spiking.html?m=1


Legal Ramifications 

If rape has indeed been committed, the accused can be liable for rape under Section 375 of the Penal Code. Rape is made out when a man who penetrates the vagina of a woman (or the anus or mouth of another person) with his penis, without the latter’s consent. The punishment for rape is severe – if found guilty, an accused may be punished with an imprisonment for a term of up to 20 years, and shall also be liable to fine or to caning.

Pertinently, the usage of date rape drugs to facilitate the commision of rape may be seen as an aggrevating factor by the courts, and such will be work against the accused’s favour during the sentencing stage. In the case of Public Prosecutor v Azuar bin Ahamad [2014] SGHC 149, the accused had spiked the alcoholic drinks of all four of his victims before committing rape on them. The accused had drugged his victims with Dormicum, a prescription drug frequently used to induce sleep, which caused the victims to lose consciousness. The High Court considered two aggravating factors. One, the court found that the offence was premeditated given that the accused spiked the victims’ drinks. Second, the High Court found the victims to be in a vulnerable state as they were unconscious when he committed the assaults. Taking these two factors into consideration, the court ultimately sentenced the accused to 37.5 years of imprisonment, and the statutory-maximum 24 strokes of the cane.

That said, even if no actual rape or sexual offence has been committed, the accused may still be liable under the law, for his act of spiking the victim’s drink. Recall that in the introduction article, we mentioned a case involving an Indian national, who spiked his flatmate’s drink, with the intention of raping her afterwards. While no sexual assault had been committed on the victim (because she spat out the water), the accused was nonetheless sentenced to 2 years and 10 months imprisonment and three strokes of the cane. This is because Section 328 of the Penal Code provides that it is an offence to administer poison or any stupefying or intoxicating substance on another person, with the intention of causing hurt to such person, or with the intention to facilitate the commission of an offence which the accused knows is likely to cause hurt. The punishment for such an offence is that of an imprisonment term which may extend to 10 years, coupled with a fine or caning.

Finally, it is noteworthy to point out that many commonly used date rape drugs, including GHB and Rohypnol, are also listed as controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act (“MDA”). Under which, the mere possession of such drugs will cause one to be liable for an offence under the MDA, and the punishment for which involves an imprisonment term of up to 10 years, or a fine of $20,000, or both.


Conclusion

Date rape drugs are most certainly dangerous. Nonetheless, there are some suggested precautions that we can take to avoid falling victim to drink spiking. These include never accepting drinks from strangers, not leaving your drinks unattended, and throwing away the drink immediately if you find that it tastes odd. 

Additionally, if you suspect that you are a victim of drink spiking or sexual assault, do also reach out to your trusted friends and family for help, and contact the police for assistance. If required, do not hesitate to seek medical attention at a medical facility. There are also resources that you might want to consider approaching for help, if for instance, you require someone to listen to your concerns – and this includes AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC) (telephone: 6779 0282; email: [email protected]).

Always remember: rape (or drink spiking) is never the victim’s fault – it is the result of the perpetrator’s choices and if found guilty, he will be severely punished for his actions.


References
  1. Association of Women for Action and Research (2002). Date Rape: What is “Date Rape”? Last retrieved 22 March 2022 from: https://www.aware.org.sg/information/rape/date-rape/
  2. Bashforth, E. (2021, November 11). How to tell if a drink has been spiked. Patient.info. Retrieved January 8, 2022, from https://patient.info/news-and-features/how-to-tell-if-a-drink-has-been-spiked
  3. Christy Leung (8 January 2022). Hong Kong judges recommend harsher sentencing guidelines for traffickers of date rape drug than for cannabis culprits. South China Morning Post. Last retrieved 22 March 2022 from: https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/law-and-crime/article/3162653/hong-kong-judges-recommend-harsher-sentencing
  4. Drink spiking in teenagers and how to avoid it. (n.d.). Positive Choices. Retrieved January 8, 2022, from https://positivechoices.org.au/students/drink-spiking
  5. Girard, A. L., & Senn, C. Y. (2008, January 1). The Role of the New “Date Rape Drugs” in Attributions About Date Rape. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 23(1), 3-20. https://doi-org.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/10.1177/0886260507307648
  6. Jalelah Abu Baker (6 June 2018). Man who spiked flatmate’s drink sentenced to jail, caning. Channel News Asia. Last retrieved 22 March 2022 from: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/man-who-spiked-flatmates-drink-sentenced-jail-caning-815761
  7. Johnson, H. (2021, November 1). Signs you’ve been spiked by drink or injection, how you feel – and what to do. NationalWorld. Retrieved January 8, 2022, from https://www.nationalworld.com/health/spiking-symptoms-signs-youve-been-spiked-by-drink-or-injection-how-you-feel-the-day-after-and-what-to-do-3440987
  8. Nicholson, K. L., & Balster, R. L. (2001, June 1). GHB: a new and novel drug of abuse. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 63(1), 1-22. 10.1016/s0376-8716(00)00191-5
  9. Schwartz, R. H., & Weaver, A. B. (1998, May 1). Rohypnol, The Date Rape Drug. SAGE Journals, 37(5), 321. https://doi-org.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/10.1177/000992289803700508
  10. Singapore Legal Advice. (2020, October 21). Date Rape: What to Do If Your Drink Has Been Unlawfully Spiked? SingaporeLegalAdvice.com. Retrieved January 8, 2022, from https://singaporelegaladvice.com/law-articles/date-rape-drink-unlawfully-spiked/
  11. Ted O’Connell, Lily Kaye, and John J. Plosay III (2000). Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB): A Newer Drug of Abuse. Am Fam Physician.;62(11):2478-2482. 
  12. The Yomiuri Shimbun (7 March 2022). Japan records surge in drug-related date rape. The Japan News. Last retrieved 22 March 2022 from: https://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0008322831

Authors’ Biography

Koon Ka Yiu Winnie is a Year 2 undergraduate from the Faculty of Science. She is pursuing a major in Chemistry and a minor in Forensic Science. She works in CJC-F’s Forensic Toxicology project. She is interested in the applications of chemistry in forensic science investigations. 

 


Lim Wei En, Wayne is a Year 1 undergraduate from the Faculty of Law. When not doing dreadful law-related work, Wayne spends his time playing frisbee, or binge watching entire seasons of K-drama on Netflix.




Wong Wai Xin is a Year 2 undergraduate from the Faculty of Science, pursuing a major in Chemistry. She is interested in the applications of chemistry and hopes to be able to educate and encourage students to gain interests in similar areas in future. Science can get pretty taxing, and she prefers to take time off when possible by reading and scribbling, on occasion. 

Edited by: Celine Cheow and Cherylynn Tan

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CJC-F, CJC-F Announcements, CJC-F Forensic Toxicology
Legal limits of drink-driving 

Many people are aware that there is a  legal limit to how much alcohol we can have in our blood while driving – think roadblocks and breathalysers. But what exactly is the legal limit and why is it at this level?

There are broadly two ways  of measuring alcohol content – by taking the amount per 100ml of breath or  per 100ml of blood. The legal limit per 100ml of breath is 35 micrograms of alcohol, while the legal limit per 100ml of blood is 80 milligrams of alcohol. These limits, above which, typically correspond to some observable detrimental effects of alcohol on human cognitive function. 


How is blood alcohol concentration (also known as BAC) calculated? 

BAC is a measurement of the amount  of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream. As alcohol is able to impair a person’s cognitive and psychomotor functions, knowing BAC can help infer the mental capacity  of a person at a specific time of interest. There are several factors affecting BAC, including one’s body size, physical conditions (including liver impairment and genetic polymorphisms), gender, age, the food consumed that day, type of alcohol, and amount of alcohol consumed (based on the volume of drinks and the percentage alcohol). These affect alcohol absorption and distribution in the body. As BAC increases, the level of alcohol-related impairment that one would experience expectedly increases. While the legal limit is set at a BAC level of 0.08%, at lower values there would also be effects which can impair one’s judgement. 

While there are legal limits to both blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and breath alcohol for drivers on the road ,breath alcohol has a higher tendency of being affected by external factors.

In some cases, BAC might not be taken immediately at the time  the offence of drink driving was committed. Thankfully, the BAC at the time of the offence can be estimated via two ways: (1) by multiplying the rate of alcohol metabolism with the duration between the time of offence and the time which the BAC was measured, and then adding that to the BAC that was measured; or (2) by multiplying the rate of alcohol metabolism with the duration between the time the alcohol was drunk and the time the offence was committed, and then deducting that from the calculated amount of alcohol drunk (this second method is only useful if the type(s) and amount(s) of alcohol the person had consumed is known). 

In general, the rate of alcohol metabolism is nearly consistent at around 0.016% per hour after  the person stops drinking. While there may be factors affecting alcohol metabolism such as eating before drinking, the increase in alcohol metabolism is marginal. As such, the BAC level at that time of interest can be calculated from a known BAC level based on the time passed even if it was not taken immediately at the time of the offence. Note that alcohol metabolism and alcohol absorption are different concepts. The rate of alcohol absorption can also affect the BAC level.



Factor

How BAC is affected 

Mechanism 

Age 

Drinking the same amount of alcohol will result in a higher BAC level for an older person than a younger person.

Older age can decrease the percentage of water in the body.This can decrease the volume of distribution of alcohol since alcohol is hydrophilic (water-loving) which in turn increases BAC. 

Body size

Higher BAC level for people with low body weight. 

People with low body weight will have less water in the body as well. This decreases volume of distribution of alcohol, increasing BAC

Food 

Higher BAC if one was drinking on an empty stomach.

Drinking on an empty stomach will result in rapid gastric emptying and results in a faster absorption of alcohol into the blood

Type of alcohol

Higher BAC for drinks with higher ethanol content and for drinks with carbon dioxide content

Higher ethanol content and presence of carbon dioxide in drinks will increase absorption rate, leading to higher BAC levels


Alcohol percentage in drinks (%) by alcohol by volume (ABV)

Vodka

40-95

Gin 

36-50

Rum 

36-50

Whiskey 

36-50

Tequila 

50-51

Fortified wine

16-24

Beer

4-8

Unfortified wine

14-16


BAC can be calculated using the Widmark equation: 

BAC=Alcohol consumed (g)body weight (g) r100

The values of r are often taken to be  0.55 for females and 0.68 for males. This is due to the different percentages of water in males and females, with females having a lower percentage of water in their bodies. However, it is important to note that typical Widmark calculations may overestimate the BAC levels for heavy drinkers due to tolerance. and would be more reliable at lower alcohol consumption levels due to saturable metabolism kinetics. 

 


This graph shows the BAC level of a male in a controlled drinking experiment (0.8g/kg ethanol on an empty stomach over 20-30 minutes).


In forensic science, the following equation is often relevant in calculating one’s BAC a certain number of hours after starting to drink, known as BACt.  BACt=[ethanol consumed/(body weight x Vd)]-(βt), where β is the zero-order elimination rate from blood per hour for t hours since drinking started. Vd refers to the volume of distribution of alcohol in this equation, which is related to percentage of water in the body since ethanol is dissolved in water rather than other biological substances (e.g. fats). A higher Vd due to higher percentage of water in the body means that the BAC would be lower if the other factors are the same as someone with a lower Vd. 


Why is there a legal limit for alcohol when driving?

The extent to which a person’s cognitive and psychomotor functions is impaired by alchol depends on the BAC level. At a BAC level of 0.02%, there would be a decline in a person’s ability to track moving objects and to multitask. At a BAC level of 0.05%, there would be additional reduced coordination and response time to emergencies and difficulty steering. At 0.08%, one would experience a decline in ability to process information, lack of speed control, reduced concentration, short-term memory loss and impaired perception. At higher levels, some effects include impaired vehicle control, dysphoria predominates and loss of consciousness. 

Based on research, scientists determined that our coordination is noticeably impaired at a leve of 0.08%l. For instance, having a BAC over 0.08% impairs our ability to accurately retrieve  signals from our brains – to either our hands on the steering wheel or our feet on the brake pedal. 

In some cases, the defendant’s claims may be different from the evidence present. For example, a driver is stopped by the police after a social gathering and gives a positive breathalyser test. However, he claims that he did not consume alcohol and only consumed iced coffee. Eventually, it was found that the coffee was laced with Brandy. This is where a forensic toxicologist would come in. Forensic toxicologists can analyse biological specimens and determine alcohol and/or drug involvement in intoxication, suspected driving under the influence (DUI) and drug-facilitated crimes (e.g. rape, theft). They would be able to find and analyse the forensic evidence and come up with appropriate expert opinions on the case. 


Legal Consequences 

Under s 67 of the Road Traffic Act (RTA), a person is guilty of drink driving if he (1) is incapable of having proper control of the vehicle, or (2) has a blood alcohol level that exceeds the legal alcohol limit. This means that while BAC is relevant, even persons below the limit can be charged with drink driving if they are found to not have control over their vehicle.

Moreover, although an accused person’s alcohol content may be taken a substantial time after the offence, s 71 of the RTA states that the accused is presumed to have no less BAC than the specimen at the time of the offence. This presumption can be rebutted if the accused proves that he drank alcohol after driving without which he would have proper control of the vehicle or would not exceed the legal limit.

The RTA states that a fine between $2,000 – $10,000 (for first-time offenders) and/or an imprisonment term up to 2 years may be imposed for a drink-driving offence under s 67. There is also a mandatory disqualification period.

Given that higher BAC has more severe effects on the drinker and is therefore more dangerous, it is no wonder that the alcohol content level plays a part in sentencing considerations.  Under the amended RTA, the High Court held that the indicative range of fines and disqualification period would be as follows:


Level of alcohol (μg per 100ml of breath)

Range of fines

Range of disqualification

36–54

$2000–$4000

24–30 months

55–69

$4000–$6000

30–36 months

70–89

$6000–$8000

36–48 months

≥ 90

$8000–$10000

48–60 months (or longer)




As seen, the higher the BAC, the higher the level of culpability of an offender and therefore, the harsher the sentence. 


Nonetheless, there are two important things about this framework. Firstly,  this framework only applies to cases whereby no harm to person or property has eventuated. Secondly, the sentencing range provided in the framework are only neutral starting points. The court will also consider aggravating or mitigating circumstances relevant to the facts of each case, and a jail term could well be imposed if the former is present. 

Long story short, avoid drinking and driving! If you’re going out to drink, take a taxi or have a designated driver in place. No one’s life is worth the risk, and fines, disqualification and possibly imprisonment certainly aren’t worth it either.




References
  1. IRB Law LLP. (2021, May 31). Drink Driving Penalties and Alcohol Limits in Singapore – IRB Law LLP. IRB Law. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://irblaw.com.sg/learning-centre/drink-driving-in-singapore/ 
  2. B.T. (2020, March 12). Blood Alcohol Content and the Legal Drinking Limit. Verywell Mind. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/blood-alcohol-content-62695
  3. Low, S. (2017, November 23). Festive Drinking: How Much Alcohol Can I Have Before Driving? Mount Elizabeth Hospital. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://www.mountelizabeth.com.sg/healthplus/article/festive-drinking-driving 
  4. Why and How Did .08 Become the Legal BAC Limit? (2019, December 11). Kanner & Pintaluga. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://kpattorney.com/why-how-08-become-legal-bac-limit/ 
  5. ​​American Addiction Centers Editorial Staff (2022, January 5). .08: Why is this the “Magic” number? DrugAbuse.com. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://drugabuse.com/blog/08-why-is-this-the-magic-number/ 
  6. Forensic toxicology: Forensic service providers: Forensic equity. (n.d.). Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://www.forensicequity.com/forensic-toxicology 
  7. DUI: Here are the penalties for drink-driving in Singapore. (2021, May 07). Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://singaporelegaladvice.com/law-articles/dui-penalties-drink-driving-singapore/ 
  8. DrinkFox. (n.d.). How long does alcohol stay in your system? DrinkFox. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.drinkfox.com/information/alcohol-metabolism 
  9. Alcohol percentage contents of various beverages. Sunrise House. (2021, July 12). Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://sunrisehouse.com/stop-drinking-alcohol/percentage-contents/ 
  10. Jones AW. Alcohol, its absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion in the body and pharmacokinetic calculations. WIREs Forensic Sci. 2019;1:e1340. https://doi.org/10.1002/wfs2.1340 
  11. Rafael Voltaire Alzate v Public Prosecutor [2021] SGHC 224 at [31]-[33]
  12. Shouse California Law Group. Breathalyzer Accuracy vs Blood Test – Which is Better? Last retrieved 2 March 2022 from: https://www.shouselaw.com/ca/blog/breathalyzer-accuracy-vs-blood-test/



Author’s Biography

Nicole Teo is currently pursuing a degree in Law and in the middle of her second year of the programme. She is aspiring to be a prosecutor one day, which sparked her interest in all things related to criminal law, including forensic science. 















Ellione is a Year 2 Chemical Engineering student pursuing a minor in Forensic Science. She has a great  interest in toxicology and hence joined the Forensic Toxicology project to learn and understand more about how toxicology can be used in the law. As a project manager for Forensic Pathology as well, she works with her team to increase awareness and interest in this aspect.


Edited by: Celine Cheow and Cherylynn Tan


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CJC-F, CJC-F Announcements, CJC-F Forensic Toxicology

Forensic toxicology refers to the analysis of medications/drugs, poisons, and other substances in a medico-legal context. It is a multidisciplinary field that includes areas such as pharmacology, analytical chemistry, to name a few. 

Image taken from: https://clinicaltoxicology.alliedacademies.com/2018/events-list/_forensic-toxicology


Forensic toxicology: fact vs fiction 

While TV shows like CSI, Bones, and NCIS might portray forensic toxicology as an isolated field where forensic toxicologists use high-tech equipment to nail down perpetrators in days, the reality is quite different from that. Contrary to popular belief, forensic toxicologists often work closely with specialists from other forensic teams, such as forensic pathologists, forensic pharmacologists, and forensic chemists. Tests usually take longer than mere days to run, with conclusions being reached after four to six weeks in some cases due to the sheer number of steps and the number  of samples to run, to name a few. 


Image taken from:
https://www.healthline.com/health-news/why-and-how-you-should-dispose-of-old-prescription-medications


Another misconception some people might have would be that forensic toxicology is carried out  only on dead people. This, however, is far from the truth- a large proportion of forensic toxicology involve living people, as long as  it involves the application of toxicology in a medico-legal perspective. Examples of forensic toxicology applications include criminal and coroner investigations of poisoning, drug use and death, as well as in suspected cases of doping in sports, inhalant or drug abuse, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and the effects of a person’s performance or behaviour and ability to make rational judgement. Yes, toxicology is a large and exciting field! 

In addition, people might often associate forensic toxicology with just illicit drugs, alcohol, and poisons. However, this is not always the case- everyday medications might also be involved as doses and indications might result in toxic or abusive potential. For example, paracetamol (more commonly under the brand Panadol) can cause liver failure and death at high enough doses. Insulin, a medication used for both types of diabetes (and absolutely essential in Type 1 diabetes, where the body is unable to produce its own insulin due to the destruction of the cells producing it), was once used in at least one murder case (e.g. involving murderer Beverley Gail Allitt). Meanwhile, medications commonly used for ailments such as (but not limited to) asthma (salbutamol, salmeterol, terbutaline, formoterol, vilanterol, etc), anemia (Erythropoietin receptor agonists), hypertension and heart failure (various diuretics and beta-blockers), ADHD (methylphenidate), and painkillers (corticosteroids and legal opioids), may be abused in sports to boost individual performance, an occurrence known as doping. 

Image taken from: https://www.sciencecare.com/blog/biological-sample


How  do forensic toxicologists carry out their analyses then? Briefly, in forensic toxicology, biological samples- most commonly blood, urine, hair- are tested for the presence of substances, and inferences are then drawn about a substance’s potential effect on an individual’s death, illness, or mental or physical impairment. Such inferences of the substance’s effects on legal outcomes would depend on the type(s) of substance(s) and their amounts. Various types of instruments are often employed. (If you’re interested in how these are done, as well as the pros and cons of various types of samples and instruments, do check out our past articles about them!) 

Pharmacokinetics vs pharmacodynamics. Image taken from: https://clsi.org/about/blog/understanding-pk-and-pd/


Forensic toxicology taps on the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties of a drug/substance. Pharmacokinetics refers to what the body does to the drug, and constitutes four processes- absorption, distribution, metabolism, and elimination. These are relevant in identifying and quantifying drugs/substances that were consumed, and in some cases can be quite complex. Meanwhile, pharmacodynamics refers to the effects each drug/substance has to the body, which come into play in identifying how the drug(s)/substance(s) could have affected a person’s behaviour, capacity (mental and physical), or even death. 

Are you excited to learn more about forensic toxicology after hearing all these? Wait no further!

A sneak peek into our upcoming content 

In the coming weeks, our articles dive into the application of  forensic toxicology in crimes. 


Image taken from: https://clsi.org/about/blog/understanding-pk-and-pd/

The first substance  that we will be discussing is alcohol. We are all aware that if we are caught driving when our blood alcohol levels exceed the prescribed legal limits, we will find ourselves in trouble with the law for drink driving. But have you ever wondered why can’t we drink and drive? And what factors affect our blood alcohol levels? Our article will explain the science behind drink driving – how alcohol affects our mind and movement, as well as break down the laws regarding drink driving. 

Not only should we be wary of the chemical constituents of alcoholic beverages , but also what we might ingest, intentionally or not. Did you know? A retired forensic scientist in Singapore had once laced  a bottle of drinking water with pesticide, eventually killing an unintended victim who drank the contaminated water. In another instance, a male subject had secretly added two poisons (whom he thought were love potions) into a woman’s water bottle, in hopes that the woman would fall in love with him after drinking the tainted water. Clearly, spiking is still a very real occurrence till today. With the rise of sexual related offences, our second article focuses on rape drugs and its impact on our bodies. Have you also ever wondered whether it is a crime to use rape drugs even if no actual rape has been committed? Stay tuned to our article to find out more! 

Image taken from: https://www.thewoodsatparkside.com/how-is-cocaine-made-the-cutting-agents-may-surprise-you/


While rape drugs are most certainly dangerous, not all drugs are harmful. Drugs are more commonly used for therapeutic purposes  – of which many are frequently used to treat illnesses and diseases. Nonetheless, drugs are a problem if they are misused. The case of
PP v Lim Hou Peng Jackson illustrates this principle perfectly – in the court’s words, “[t]his case shows how the consumption of illegal drugs can sometimes lead to very sad and fatal consequences which were never intended”. In this case, the accused and the deceased were in a relationship and one night, the deceased died while she was staying over at the accused’s flat. Forensic toxicology was employed in the present case – the presence of Methamphetamine was detected in the accused’s urine sample and methamphetamine was also detected in the deceased’s peripheral blood  sample, bile and stomach contents. It turned out that the deceased began to behave erratically after consuming the drug. In an attempt to stop her from screaming and prevent both of them from getting into trouble with the law for drug consumption, the deceased, unfortunately, exerted too much pressure on the deceased in the process, thereby strangulating her. Why exactly do drugs cause behave erratically or violently after consumption? Our third article answers this question in relation to a specific drug called cocaine. 

In conclusion, forensic toxicology is a very interesting field which has many legal applications. The three articles showcased this year would give you a sampling of just some of the things forensic toxicology can do. Hope you look forward to them! (And that you’ll be interested to learn more in the future as well!) 



References

Queensland Health (24 April 2019). Real stories of life and death: why forensic toxicology is nothing like TV. Last retrieved 2 March 2022 from: https://www.health.qld.gov.au/news-events/news/forensic-toxicology-analysis-testing-Amanda-Thompson

Lee Lofland (12 March 2012). 10 Forensic myths spread by TV. Last retrieved 2 March 2022 from:  https://leelofland.com/10-forensic-myths-spread-by-tv/

World Anti-Doping Agency. World Anti-Doping Code: International Standard Prohibited List 2021. Last retrieved 2 March 2022 from: https://www.wada-ama.org/sites/default/files/resources/files/2021list_en.pdf

Zaihan Mohamed Yusof and Clement Yap (19 July 2014). MRT ‘samurai’ jailed. AsiaOne. Retrieved 2 March 2022 from: https://www.asiaone.com/singapore/mrt-samurai-jailed 

Public Prosecutor v Quek Loo Ming [2002] SGHC 171 

Public Prosecutor v Lim Hou Peng, Jackson [2016] SGHC 53

Elena Chong (19 January 2016). Man who put ‘love potion’ into woman’s water bottle fined $1,500. The Straits Times. Retrieved 2 March 2022 from:  https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/man-who-put-love-potion-into-womans-water-bottle-fined-1500  

 


Author’s Biography
Cherylynn Tan is a Year 2 undergraduate from the Faculty of Law and she is keen on exploring the interplay between drugs, alcohol and crime. As one of the project managers for the Forensic Toxicology project, Cherylynn oversees the project group’s timeline and vets articles relating to forensic toxicology. 

Celine is a recent graduate from NUS Pharmacy. As a project manager of the forensic toxicology team, she guides the team with her knowledge of drugs, and edits articles relating to forensic toxicology. 

 

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