New Tests from
2006-07 Indicate that Mitch Collins Orally Consumed Heroin.
By Patrick J
Collins (Mitch’s father): 26.10.07.
Foreword: On 1.09.06, Magistrate Michael Halliday
concluded Mitch Collins’ adjourned inquest after he tabled “Exhibit A”, a major
submission from Mitch’s mother (Desley) and me. This drew attention to numerous
problems relevant to Mitch’s toxicology tests and to expert opinions based on
these. Magistrate Halliday recommended that the Director of QHSS (Queensland
Health Scientific Services) consider our concerns in “Exhibit A” and provide a
report to the State Coroner Mr Michael Barnes and to us. The requested report
was compiled in early September 2007 by Professor Naylor from the John Tonge
Centre, after consultation with the Director of QHSS. However, we have not yet
(at 26.10.07) received a copy. “Exhibit A” is included nearby on this web site
under the menu heading “Toxic Toxicology”. The following addresses developments
Significantly, to us, Queensland Health has recently,
though implicitly, agreed with us that at no time since Mitch’s death until now,
has this department employed a very senior toxicologist or pharmacologist who
was/is competent to authoritatively interpret autopsy toxicology test results.
For instance, the Health Minister Stephen Robertson, in a letter to us dated
“… the possibility of employing a medical
pharmacologist [at QHSS] with additional expertise is under active
The Health Minister and Professor Charles Naylor from the
John Tonge Centre deserve credit for this, for the need is great. It has already
caused legal problems. The following exemplifies this. It draws attention to the
faulty notion that opinions from high status interstate “experts” should be
accepted as irrefutable by the Offices of the State Coroner and the DPP
(Director of Public Prosecutions). This statement is based on the results of
recent toxicology tests that were conducted on Mitch’s autopsy specimens on our
behalf, by laboratories that were not controlled by Queensland Health. We listed
most of the tests and others in “Exhibit A”, for they should have been conducted
by QHSS, to enable scientists to determine if Mitch swallowed heroin, or if it
entered his body via an injection. It is my opinion that the results of the new
tests, which were carried out after the DPP dropped a murder charge against
Mardi Mclean, indicate that Mitch unknowingly swallowed the heroin. In other
words the DPP’s decision to drop the murder charge was based on flawed
toxicological evidence and inadequate “expert” opinions.
As the State Coroner is currently considering the new test
results, I have advised Attorney General Shine and Health Minister Robertson of
this. Whether or not I provide the DPP with the results will be decided after
the State Coroner has considered them. Accordingly, to avoid potential sub
judice issues, I have not, in the following summary, named the scientists who
conducted the new tests, or the laboratories where the tests were undertaken. It
is pertinent to mention that Professor Naylor, during a recent interview with
Desley and me, asked us if we had considered applying for a new inquest.
However, we will not be doing this, for we believe the new test results confirm
Magistrate Halliday’s conclusions at the end of his August 2001 inquest hearing.
In other words, there is nothing to be gained from another inquest. On the other
hand, there is much to be gained if a murder trial is eventually held. Time will
Disclaimer: Every opinion or conclusion passed by me
below, was based on my understanding of highly credible and relevant journal
articles and books. If I have misunderstood or wrongly applied the relevant
research this was not intentional. However, I will, if asked by appropriate
persons, readily provide copies of, or references to, any of the sources upon
which I based my opinions and conclusions. Most of these sources have in fact
already been provided to the Offices of the State Coroner and the DPP.
Why the Tests Were Conducted:
Professor Drummer’s speculations:
The murder charge against Mardi McLean was dropped
essentially because of Professor Olaf Drummer’s speculations in his report of
20.08.04. For instance, although the concentrations of heroin metabolites in
Mitch’s stomach were about 500% higher than in his blood, Drummer suggested that
gastric bleeding or bile could have been the source of Mitch’s gastric morphine
and its metabolites. Drummer also speculated that gastric morphine metabolites
might have converted back to morphine between Mitch’s death and the analysis of
his stomach contents. Although Drummer could have sought extra tests to confirm
or negate these speculations, he did not do so. These tests have now been
conducted. The results negated all of Drummer’s above speculations and strongly
suggest that Mitch orally consumed the heroin that killed him. As McLean swore
that she witnessed Mitch inject himself with heroin twice, just before he died,
I believe the new evidence also suggests that the murder charge should not have
been dropped. (For further details of Drummer’s speculations see an adjacent
paper titled “Toxic Toxicology”.)
The Integrity of the New Tests:
With support from Magistrate Michael Halliday and Professor
Charles Naylor from the John Tonge Centre, Desley and I arranged to have extra
toxicological tests conducted under the supervision of a senior chemical
pathologist from a major private enterprise pathology company. However, Desley
and I were at no stage involved with the process. Scientists ensured that
Mitch’s autopsy specimens were transported and preserved appropriately: i.e.
“continuity” of evidence was ensured. Three laboratories were involved. Two were
interstate government laboratories, which are similar to the QHSS laboratory at
the John Tonge Centre. The above pathology company conducted a gastric
The Test Results:
Gastric Bile Test:
Professor Graham Cooksley from the QIMR (Queensland
Institute of Medical Research) suggested that Desley and I ascertain the
concentration of Mitch’s gastric bile salts, for this could be used to determine
the volume of bile, if any, that was in Mitch’s stomach contents. A NSW
Government laboratory conducted this test and found:
Mitch’s gastric bile salt concentration was:
6umol/litre (or 6micromols/litre).
The above laboratory reported that this is within the
normal “reference range”: i.e. the presence of such tiny quantities of gastric
bile salts is not unusual.
Gastric bile volume (calculated by Patrick Collins):
To convert the above concentration to a bile volume, it was
necessary to allow for the presence of other bile substances, especially
cholesterol and phospholipids. When the molecular weights and proportions of
these were taken into account, Mitch’s gastric bile quantity was approximately
3.6mg. As the specific gravity of bile has an approximate range of (1.01 – 1.04)
this was also taken into account. From all of this:
Mitch’s gastric bile volume was less than 0.004mL,
which is about 1,000th of the volume of an eye-drop.
(Note: 1mL means one millilitre and is equivalent to 1cc.
Also, 1,000mg = 1gram; and 1,000mL = 1litre)
Mitch’s autopsy gastric TM (total morphine) quantity was
2.6mg in August 2001. If this had been in his above tiny gastric bile volume,
the bile TM concentration would have been greater than 700,000mg/L (or
700,000mg/kg). However, such a concentration is hundreds of times higher than
any reported in science journals in relation to heroin or morphine deaths. Also,
it is improbable that 2.6mg of TM could be dissolved in the above tiny bile
(Note: mg/L means milligrams per litre. Similarly: mg/kg
means milligrams per kilogram. In many reports mg/L and mg/kg are used as
Conclusion: Mitch’s gastric bile volume of less than
0.004mL was too miniscule to have transported 2.6mg of TM into his stomach: i.e.
bile was not the source of Mitch’s gastric heroin metabolites.
Professor Drummer’s bile source speculation was wrong, but he should have
determined this prior to his submitting speculations about this in an opinion on
(Note: as TM can be found in bile after either oral
consumption or an injection of heroin/morphine, the presence of gastric bile
does not verify that an injection was the source. It simply introduces doubt
about how the heroin/morphine was taken.)
* * * * *
Gastric Blood Test:
Professor Graham Cooksley from the QIMR also suggested that
we seek an analysis of Mitch’s stomach contents to determine the quantity of
haemoglobin, if any, that was present. This was to verify or negate Professor
Drummer’s speculation that gastric bleeding within minutes after a heroin
injection might have been the source of Mitch’s gastric heroin/morphine
metabolites. Drummer did not however explain why there was no blood in “vomitus”
that paramedics found on Mitch’s face near his mouth. This aside, a major
Queensland pathology laboratory conducted this test and reported:
haemoglobin was present”.
In other words there was no blood in Mitch’s stomach
As Mitch’s stomach contents specimens were frozen by QHSS,
it appears unlikely, from my study of the literature, that every trace of free
haemoglobin (if any was ever present) could have disappeared during storage
prior to testing. However, as this test should have been conducted prior to
Drummer submitting his opinion on Mitch’s death, this raises other issues. For
instance, how can any Court determine if a drug has been orally consumed or
injected, if the relevant experts do not conduct pertinent gastric tests before
the gastric specimens can decay during storage. Drummer could not have done this
until around August 2004, but QHSS analysts and pathologists should have done so
in early 2001. QHSS lacks the facility to conduct this test, but they could have
asked a commercial pathology laboratory to do so. In the face of this, and based
solely on appearance, a forensic pathologist and a chemical analyst from QHPSS
regarded the red substance in Mitch’s stomach contents as blood-like. This was
recorded in Mitch’s Post-mortem Report and stated in evidence during Mitch’s
inquest in August 2001.
It astounds me that forensic scientists could have visually
decided that a red liquid in Mitch’s stomach was blood, and then referred to it
as blood in Court, especially so, given that Magistrate Halliday had requested
an analysis of Mitch’s stomach contents. This was reminiscent of an aspect of a
Lindy Chamberlain trial. In this instance, a forensic scientist identified a
substance in Lindy’s car as blood. However, it was later shown to be a rust
proofing compound. In Mitch’s case, the red substance has still not been
identified. Could heroin have entered his body in this? Hopefully, this question
will one day be answered.
Conclusion: If storage conditions were
appropriate to prevent total free haemoglobin decay, gastric bleeding soon
after a heroin injection was not the source of Mitch’s gastric heroin/morphine
metabolites. There is no evidence that supports Professor Drummer’s
speculation that early bleeding might have occurred.
Note: A leading chemical pathologist told the Coroner’s
Court that if the unidentified red substance in Mitch’s stomach was blood or a
blood product, it would have been from bleeding that occurred well after death:
i.e. after Mitch’s body had started to decay. However, Drummer, whose academic
resume of 20.08.04 did not include MB.BS (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of
Surgery) qualifications, refuted this chemical pathologist’s opinion but, as
previously stated, Drummer did not seek an analysis of Mitch’s stomach contents
for the presence of gastric haemoglobin, as evidence of gastric bleeding. As was
also previously stated, the unfortunate truth is, no analyst, pathologist or
toxicologist bothered to check if the red fluid in Mitch’s stomach was blood,
but most assumed that it was. However, the new evidence suggests that this red
substance was another fluid, eg. a red drink such as Berocca or a “Bloody Mary”,
which could have been used as a solvent for an oral dose of heroin. By contrast,
Drummer sought an extra test to determine Mitch’s gastric methamphetamine level.
But this was in an attempt to negate an associated query by me, in relation to
bile as a source of Mitch’s gastric morphine. So why didn’t Drummer check to see
if any gastric blood was present?
* * * * *
Tests for Gastric 6MAM and Changes to Gastric Morphine:
Monoacetylmorphine (or 6MAM) is a heroin metabolite that
has no other source but heroin. If it is found during analysis of autopsy
specimens, it is certain that the deceased person had orally consumed, “snorted”
or injected heroin. The QHSS laboratory at the John Tonge Centre “detected” 6MAM
in Mitch’s stomach and urine but did not quantify either. Surprisingly,
Professor Drummer and Professor Duflou, who provided the DPP with opinions about
Mitch’s death, also failed to have the gastric 6MAM level quantified. Another
unfortunate truth is: not one expert had Mitch’s gastric 6MAM level determined,
although this was potentially the most significant evidence of oral heroin
consumption: especially so if a bolus of 6MAM had been identified.
As an unknown quantity of 6MAM was in Mitch’s stomach
contents, we did have the level determined. A southern government laboratory
conducted the analysis. The results follow.
Gastric 6MAM Test Result:
Mitch’s gastric 6MAM concentration was 0.25mg/Litre.
As the volume of Mitch’s gastric contents was one litre,
the above shows that these contents contained a quantity of 0.25mg of 6MAM.
As the above concentration was determined in late 2006,
i.e. nearly six years after Mitch died, it is very possible that the gastric
level was much higher when he died. This is because 6MAM metabolises to free
morphine (FM) and some 6MAM could have diffused from his stomach to his blood
and other organs. No 6MAM was found in his blood but this was not unusual, as
6MAM survives for a very short time in blood. However, it is known to survive
for much longer periods in mildly acidic urine and in stomach contents (Moriya
Comment: Had the relevant scientists known that Mitch’s
gastric 6MAM level was at least 0.25mg/kg when he died, they should logically
have considered that this gastric 6MAM could have resulted from the oral
consumption of heroin, and it was probably higher than 0.25mg/kg at death.
Also, as Mitch’s stomach contained 2.6mg of TM (total
morphine), when this is added to the above 0.25mg of 6MAM, his total quantity
of autopsy gastric heroin metabolites was at least 2.85mg, whereas a litre
of his peripheral blood probably contained less than his autopsy level of 0.5mg
TM at death.
Note: 6MAM is not found in bile or liver contents.
Therefore, as no gastric haemoglobin or significant gastric bile were found,
the gastric 6MAM, FM and TM levels indicate that Mitch orally consumed heroin.
* * * * *
6MAM “detected” in Mitch’s Urine:
It is accepted that following oral heroin consumption,
only traces of 6MAM (if any) enter circulating (systemic) blood, as 6MAM is
metabolised to morphine before it reaches this blood. Therefore, 6MAM is not
found in the urine of living persons who swallow heroin unless they also
injected. However, 6MAM is a highly lipophilic drug, and, in deceased persons,
such drugs are known to diffuse from sites of high concentration to sites where
the concentration is low. Also, as paramedics noticed “vomitus” or “aspirate” on
Mitch’s face, 6MAM may have entered his blood via his lungs. In other words, it
is not valid to conclude that the 6MAM “detected” in Mitch’s urine was from a
heroin injection, for it could have derived from oral heroin consumption.
However, it is possible that Mitch was injected with heroin after falling asleep
from an oral dose of the same drug. For instance, a mark from an injection under
his tongue would not have been found.
[Note: The senior chemical pathologist who told the Coroner
that Mitch had orally consumed heroin, did not rule out the possibility that
some heroin had entered Mitch’s body via an injection. Also, Dr Sinton, who
conducted Mitch’s autopsy, told Desley and me that it would not be difficult to
inject heroin into an unconscious person.]
* * * * *
Changes to Mitch’s Gastric Morphine During Storage:
As stated previously, Professor Drummer speculated that
Mitch’s gastric free morphine level may have increased during frozen storage as
a result of morphine metabolites converting back to FM (free morphine) by
hydrolysis. Independent tests show that this did not happen.
Mitch’s autopsy was held on 18.12.00 but his gastric
contents were not partially analysed until 02.08.01. The gastric tests that we
later requested were conducted on or about 7.11.06. The table below compares the
results from the separate tests.
Abbreviations in the table below: 6MAM is
monoacetylmorphine. FM is free morphine. TM is total morphine (i.e. FM plus its
metabolites). FC is free codeine. TC is total codeine.
Gastric Codeine is included as it was an impurity of street
A Comparison of
Gastric Heroin Metabolites From Two Analyses.
TM – FM
Mitch’s gastric free morphine (FM) decreased from
1.4mg/kg between August 2001 and November 2006. In other words, Drummer’s
speculation that Mitch’s gastric FM may have increased post-mortem was wrong.
A corresponding increase in the gastric total morphine (TM)
was also determined. This indicates that gastric metabolism of FM to morphine
metabolites had occurred during the same period. It also strongly suggests that
this metabolism had been occurring during five years of storage after Mitch’s
autopsy, and also in his body between death and autopsy. In other words,
Mitch’s gastric FM was probably higher than 1.4mg/kg when he died: not lower as
speculated by Drummer.
Note: The increase in gastric TM was greater than the
decrease in FM. This was because the major metabolites of FM have higher
molecular weights than FM.
Gastric Codeine: As heroin is a derivative of the
poppy flower, from which FM and Codeine are extracted, Codeine (and sometimes
6MAM) are found in heroin produced in backyard laboratories. Accordingly, the
0.7mg of gastric total codeine that was determined in November 2006 was part of
the heroin dose that killed Mitch.
* * *
Total Gastric Remnant of the Fatal Heroin Dose:
The total weight of the heroin metabolites plus
impurities found in Mitch’s stomach was the sum of the 6MAM, TM and TC
These were at least:
In August 2001 = 3.55mg.
In November 2006 = 3.75mg.
Although 3.75mg is a relatively small amount, the new tests
show there is no evidence that it came from a source other than orally
Note: As stated earlier, 6MAM is a highly lipophilic drug
that can diffuse throughout the body between death and autopsy. As Mitch’s
gastric 6MAM concentration was 0.25mg/kg, six years after he died, it was almost
certainly higher when he died. This also indicates that when he died the
quantity of the combined quantity of gastric heroin metabolites and impurities
was greater than the above amounts.
* * * * *
Test for Liver FM and TM:
The same southern laboratory that determined the levels of
Mitch’s gastric heroin compounds also evaluated the levels of FM and TM in a
specimen of his liver. The concentrations were:
FM @ 0.5mg/kg and TM @ 2.5mg/kg.
As Mitch’s gastric FM concentration was 1.4mg/kg in August
2001 and although it had fallen to 1.1mg/kg by November 2006, it was never as
low as it was in his liver. It has also been reported (by Moriya 1996) that FM
is very stable even in putrefying liver, whereas morphine metabolites can
totally convert to FM at room temperatures within 10 days. In other words,
Mitch’s post-mortem liver FM of 0.5mg/kg was never higher than this.
It can therefore be concluded that Mitch’s August 2001
post-mortem gastric FM concentration of 1.4mg/kg did not derive from his liver,
eg by diffusion before death.
conclusions from the new (2006-07) toxicological tests conducted on Mitch’s
stored autopsy specimens.
Assuming that Mitch’s autopsy specimens were stored
appropriately to prevent the complete breakdown of any free haemoglobin, he
orally consumed all, or at least some, of the heroin that killed him. The
evidence that supports this includes:
(i): His gastric autopsy FM and TM levels were both
approximately 500% of his peripheral blood FM and TM levels of 0.3mg/kg and
0.5mg/kg. However, it is very possible that his peripheral blood FM
concentration had increased post-mortem, eg from two sessions of post-mortem
CPR. If this happened, his gastric FM level was even greater than 500% of his
peripheral blood FM level. Also, post-mortem blood FM levels can increase from
the post-mortem metabolism of 6MAM to FM.
Research has verified that ante-mortem blood FM levels
cannot be determined from post-mortem blood levels. Blood FM increases of up to
850% have been noted between when bodies were admitted to a mortuary and the
(ii): His stored gastric contents contained a minimum of
2.85mg of heroin metabolites, including 0.25mg of the heroin marker 6MAM.
(iii): It is very likely, perhaps highly probable, that his
gastric 6MAM level was higher at death than it was at autopsy. This is because
6MAM could have diffused from his stomach to his blood and to other organs.
(iv): 6MAM from Mitch’s stomach could have been the source
of the urine 6MAM that was “detected” in 2001. As there is research that lends
support to this conclusion, it is not speculative.
(v): As Mitch gastric FM level fell between August 2001 and
November 2006, it is very likely that his gastric FM = 1.4mg/kg had also fallen
during storage between his December 2000 autopsy and August 2001.
(vi): The recent tests negate speculations that Mitch’s
gastric morphine compounds could have derived from blood or bile that entered
(vii): There was no blood in vomitus on Mitch’s face, but
there would have been if he had experienced gastric bleeding within minutes of a
(vii): His liver FM concentration of 0.5mg/kg was too low
to have been the source of his autopsy gastric FM of 1.4mg/kg.
(viii): His gastric free and total Codeine levels were
consistent with their deriving from Codeine impurities in street heroin. When
added to his gastric heroin metabolites, the total quantity of autopsy gastric
heroin compounds and impurities was greater than 3.5mg. This is a significant
proportion of a potentially fatal heroin dose in a non-user who lacked
heroin/morphine tolerance. However, this quantity was possibly even greater at
death, for 6MAM could have diffused from his stomach between death and autopsy.
(ix): Although it is evident that Mitch orally consumed
heroin, it is nevertheless possible that he was injected with more heroin after
he was unconscious. This could have been under his tongue or in some other
non-obvious body location.
(x): Paramedics, who found no needle marks, confirmed that
marks found at autopsy were consistent with their attempts to inject life-saving
drugs into Mitch. Hypotheses that contradicted this did not take into account
McLean’s claim that she saw a large lump from a botched attempt by Mitch to
inject himself. If this had happened, the skin damage should have been obvious
* * * * *
support for oral heroin consumption from needle marks:
Paramedics and police, who initially suspected that Mitch
had died from a heroin overdose, searched for but could not find any needle
marks on Mitch’s arms. Their searches also failed to discover any needles or
heroin paraphernalia. When needle marks were found on Mitch’s arms during his
autopsy, a senior paramedic gave evidence that these were consistent with his
attempts to inject potentially life-saving drugs into Mitch.
Professor Duflou, who, in 2006, provided an opinion on
Mitch’s death, suggested that some needle marks observed during autopsy could
have been from heroin injections, for the marks might have become more obvious
during the two days between death and autopsy. However, Duflou had not read
Mardi McLean’s claim to the Coroner, that she saw a large lump on Mitch’s arm as
a result of his missing a vein while injecting heroin about five hours before he
died. It follows from Duflou’s evidence, that associated needle damage should
have been more visible with time, but it was not seen by any person.
A needle that Mitch had probably used to self-inject
Ribavirin, a legal antiviral pharmaceutical, contained traces of blood. QHSS
analysed this but found no heroin in the blood. Similarly, some of Mitch’s blood
specimens from a then recent medical treatment programme were also analysed but
again, no heroin was found.
The only witness to have stated that Mitch injected heroin
was Mardi McLean. However she did not state this until her own heroin needles
were found hidden in her bedroom two days after Mitch died. Until then she had
claimed that Mitch had had a heart attack. She also told Emergency Services and
paramedics that she did not know if Mitch had used heroin. Professor Drummer’s
speculative opinion supported McLean’s claim, but the new test results should
legally nullify this support.
Note: Unfortunately, the issue of needle marks could have
been quickly resolved, if QHPSS pathologists had preserved flesh from around the
needle marks and had these analysed. It is known that heroin concentrations are
high in such specimens, if a relevant heroin injection had occurred.
From all of the above it is my opinion that Mitch died
from a heroin overdose that he orally consumed, at least in part. If this is
correct, it verifies that McLean had “guilty knowledge”, for she belatedly said
that Mitch had injected heroin twice but she did not mention any oral
consumption of heroin. It is now up to the Offices of the State Coroner and
hopefully the DPP to decide what action to take as a result of the new evidence.
However, it can be assumed that the matter will not be swept under the
proverbial carpet without very loud protestations.
Regardless of what
action, if any is taken by the above legal personnel, nothing can take away the
gains made from the new test results. When read in conjunction with evidence
from Mitch’s inquest and telephone records accessed since then, they show that
Mitch did not kill himself by an accidental fatal heroin overdose. None of
Mitch’s loved ones or close friends ever believed that he did, but it is
comforting to have this confirmed scientifically.
* * * * *