Heroin, a semisynthetic opioid drug synthesized from morphine, is the 3,6-diacetyl ester of morphine (diacetylmorphine). The post-mortem diagnosis of heroin-related death could be an issue and usually rely on a combination of investigations, including the autopsy, histological and toxicological analysis. We conducted the present study to evaluate the correlation between the heroin concentration in biological fluids (peripheral blood, bile and urine) and the post-mortem anti-6-MAM antibody expression in various tissues (brain, heart, lung, liver and kidney) using immunohistochemical staining. A quantitative analysis of the immunohistochemical reaction was carried out. 45 cases of heroin-related death investigated at the Forensic Pathology Institutes of the University of Rome, Foggia and Pisa were included. The control group was composed of 15 cases of death due to other causes, without brain lesions and negative toxicological analysis for drugs. We found a positive immunohistochemical reaction in different organs and it was related to the timing of heroin metabolization. No reaction was found in the control group. Our findings show that immunohistochemistry can be a valuable tool for the post-mortem diagnosis of acute heroin abuse. A better understanding of the timing of heroin's metabolism can be useful in the forensic field and for future therapeutic applications.
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