Evidence from a toxicologist challenged Derek Chauvin’s attorney’s claims that George Floyd overdosed on fentanyl.


A forensic toxicologist at the lab that tested George Floyd’s blood said it was common for drunk driving suspects who used fentanyl to have higher levels of the drug in their system than Mr. Floyd at his death. Prosecutors were hoping his testimony would deal a blow to Derek Chauvin’s attorney’s argument that Mr. Floyd’s death may have been an overdose.

Toxicologist Dr. Daniel Isenschmid works at NMS Labs in Pennsylvania and testified on the ninth day of the trial against Mr. Chauvin, who was charged with murder upon Mr. Floyd’s death. Out of more than 2,300 blood samples from drunk drivers that NMS Labs tested last year – all in cases where the driver survived and tested positive for fentanyl – about a quarter of people had equal or equal fentanyl levels. higher than Mr. Floyd’s, said Dr. Isenschmid.

Prosecutors had called him to the stand to rebut Mr. Chauvin’s attorney’s argument that fentanyl, a strong opioid, caused Mr. Floyd’s overdose. Prosecutors claim Mr Chauvin is responsible for Mr Floyd’s death, and earlier Thursday a pulmonologist said Mr Chauvin’s knees on Mr Floyd’s neck and back were major factors in his death .

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Dr Isenschmid said that last year, in cases where NMS Labs tested the blood of a deceased person who had taken fentanyl, the average amount scientists found was 16.8 nanograms per milliliter, or about 50% more than the amount found in Mr. Floyd’s. some blood. But Mr Chauvin’s attorney, Eric J. Nelson, noted that the average was among people who had died of any cause and had fentanyl in their system, not just overdoses. And, he pointed out, the median fentanyl level in that group was slightly lower than Mr. Floyd’s.

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The testimony of Dr Isenschmid, who previously worked as the chief toxicologist at the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office in Detroit, was among the most technical to date, but jurors seemed attentive, according to a reporter from the courtroom. hearing.

He said that when a person’s body turns fentanyl, it turns into norfentanyl, and Mr. Floyd had a relatively high proportion of norfentanyl, indicating that his body had already processed a significant portion of fentanyl. This reinforced prosecutors’ argument that Mr. Floyd had not overdosed; Fentanyl overdoses often occur soon after taking the medicine, before a person’s body can break down much of the medicine.

But Dr Isenschmid admitted, in response to Mr Nelson, that it was also possible that Mr Floyd took and treated fentanyl earlier in the day and then consumed more in the moments leading up to or during the arrest. . Toxicological results, Dr Isenschmid said, do not indicate when a specific amount of fentanyl was taken.

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Mr Nelson pointed out that pills which carried Mr Floyd’s TBEN and which could have been partially ingested were found in the back of the police car in which Mr Floyd was briefly placed.

Still, Dr Isenschmid said the same amount of fentanyl can have very different effects in a new user compared to someone who is addicted to the drug. Mr. Floyd’s girlfriend said that she and Mr. Floyd both had difficulty quitting opioids.

“If a person becomes tolerant to a drug, they need it more and more to achieve the desired effect,” said Dr Isenschmid.

Methamphetamine was also found in Mr Floyd’s system, although Dr Isenschmid said the levels were so low they likely had no intoxicating effect.