About Forensic Drug Analysts

A forensic drug analyst can also be called a forensic toxicologist or forensic chemist, but regardless of the designation, these individuals have one vital role: to study drugs and other toxic substances that may be of interest in crimes. These individuals work in both the field and the laboratory to help identify causes of death and to help prosecute or exonerate suspects in crimes.

Job Requirements and Duties

A forensic drug analyst performs many duties, but his or her primary role involves testing bodily tissues and fluids for the presence of toxic drugs or chemicals. Oftentimes, these individuals are called upon to testify in court so that they can explain their findings to a judge and/or jury. They spend the majority of their time in a laboratory testing various samples, but in some areas, they are also required to collect samples directly from crime scenes or from victims themselves. They work directly with law enforcement officials, medical examiners, and even coroners to help establish causes of death or illness.

Required Education

In order to become a forensic drug analyst, candidates will need a bachelor’s degree in a field of natural or forensic science. However, in order to be considered for these positions, a certificate in forensic toxicology or chemistry should also be obtained. There are numerous schools that offer these certificates, including the University of Florida which was one of the first to offer courses specific to forensic drug chemistry. Courses in drug pharmacology, toxicology, anatomy, and analytical techniques are all requirements. Other universities offer similar courses as a focus area for a degree in forensic science.

Certifications and Licensure

The certifications for forensic drug analysts are provided by the American Board of Forensic Toxicologists which has its own set of guidelines and requirements in place. Candidates are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in any area of study, but they must prove that they have some education in the field of forensic toxicology. Other requirements include three recommendations from practitioners in the forensic toxicology field, a clean background check, and a strong set of ethics. Some of the degrees that are most helpful in obtaining this certification include degrees in pharmacology, biology, and other healthcare-related fields.

Career and Job Outlook

An average of the reported annual salaries from major online employment websites concludes that the average annual salary for a forensic drug analyst is about $74,000 per year, with those who have the most experience or who work in major metropolitan areas earning more and those working for small jurisdictions or at entry-level positions earning less. Because the field itself is expanding outside of law enforcement and toxicologists are being hired for other purposes, such as drug testing for major companies and for court systems, the overall job outlook is promising and those entering the field can enjoy above-average job security.

If you are someone who enjoys chemistry, particularly in the pharmaceutical sense, and you have a passion for law enforcement, then you should consider a career as a forensic drug analyst. The pay and the job security are well worth the education it takes to get started.