As I write about murder, I often have to ask myself this question: What is the perfect drug to use as a murder weapon?
There are a number of possibilities, but most have flaws that make them less than perfect. So let me narrow down the field. Anything that would leave behind telltale trace should be eliminated right away. Agreed?
For instance, a strong tranquilizer like Valium would leave lots of evidence in the blood. We need to find a drug that either leaves no metabolite trace or one that is indigenous to the body.
Let’s discuss that first requirement: leaving no metabolite trace. What is a metabolite, anyway? By definition, it’s a byproduct of the body’s metabolism. It’s what’s left after the body breaks down a substance into either small parts or changes the substance (drug) into other chemicals. For example, when we eat an egg (made up of protein, carbs and fat), our bodies break it down into its components that can then be used for fuel and the rest is eliminated.
The same thing happens with drugs. They’re broken down into metabolites (the byproducts) and they circulate in the bloodstream until we eliminate them (usually through the kidneys). So, what drug leaves no metabolite trace? The simple answer is NONE.
That leaves us with a second requirement: a drug that may leave behind metabolites, but only ones that are normal to the body. There are several possibilities, but two come to mind that are excellent.
The first is succinylcholine (SUX for short). It’s a neuromuscular paralytic drug. In short, it causes ALL the muscles of the body to be paralyzed. They simply stop functioning, including those used for breathing. So without medical help, a person given a dose of SUX will stop breathing and asphyxiate. That happens in a matter of seconds and certainly less than a minute after a person is injected with the drug.
That’s why it’s used in anesthesia. It helps doctors get those breathing tubes down the throat easier during surgeries. It’s an effective drug and fast acting, but it’s an agonizing death since the person remains wide awake while the drug is doing its job paralyzing all the muscles of the body.
It’s a perfect murder weapon because it metabolizes (gets broken down by the body) almost immediately into the byproducts succinic acid and choline, both of which are normal to the body.
And at autopsy, minutely elevated levels of these chemicals are the only evidence of the crime, and toxicologists and medical examiners would easily overlook the slightly abnormal blood chemistry. It would be a difficult to prove murder without corroborating evidence linking the actual injection to the perpetrator.
The second drug that could make the perfect murder weapon is potassium chloride. This drug specifically is used to treat patients with extremely low levels of potassium. And, when given, the drug simply is metabolized into the components potassium and chloride, both of which are normally in the body.
An overdose of injected potassium causes severe heart arrhythmias and mimics a heart attack. In a matter of minutes, the heart spasms and then simply stops functioning in what’s called SCD (sudden cardiac death).
But what about those pesky elevated blood levels of potassium? Not a problem! Whenever any muscle tissue is damaged (and the heart is muscle tissue), unusually large amounts of potassium are released into our blood. So a medical examiner would likely list the cause of death as a fatal heart attack.
So today you have a BONUS. Not one but two great drug choices to write about the perfect murder. Is it any wonder that the prison system uses both of these drugs in the trio cocktail mix used in lethal injections? Happy writing as you plot the next perfect crime.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them.