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J Anal Toxicol. 2013 May;37(4):208-16. doi: 10.1093/jat/bkt014. Epub 2013 Mar 19.

Analysis of sertraline in postmortem fluids and tissues in 11 aviation accident victims.

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  • 1Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, AAM-610, Forensic Toxicology Laboratory, Federal Aviation Administration, Oklahoma City, OK 73169, USA.


Sertraline (Zoloft) is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor that is a commonly prescribed drug for the treatment of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Although the use of sertraline is relatively safe, certain side effects may negatively affect a pilot's performance and become a factor in an aviation accident. The authors' laboratory investigated the distribution of sertraline and its primary metabolite, desmethylsertraline, in various postmortem tissues and fluids obtained from 11 fatal aviation accident cases between 2001 and 2004. Eleven specimen types were analyzed for each case, including blood, urine, vitreous humor, liver, lung, kidney, spleen, muscle, brain, heart and bile. Human specimens were processed utilizing solid-phase extraction, followed by characterization and quantitation employing gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Whole blood sertraline concentrations obtained from these 11 cases ranged from 0.005 to 0.392 µg/mL. The distribution coefficients of sertraline, expressed as specimen/blood ratio, were as follows: urine, 0.47 ± 0.39 (n = 6); vitreous humor, 0.02 ± 0.01 (n = 4); liver, 74 ± 59 (n = 11); lung, 67 ± 45 (n = 11); kidney, 7.4 ± 5 (n = 11); spleen, 46 ± 45 (n = 10); muscle, 2.1 ± 1.3 (n = 8); brain, 22 ± 14 (n = 10); heart, 9 ± 7 (n = 11); and bile, 36 ± 26 (n = 8). Postmortem distribution coefficients obtained for sertraline had coefficients of variation ranging from 47-99%. This study suggests that sertraline likely undergoes significant postmortem redistribution.

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