History and Formation of The Southwestern Association of Toxicologists

James C. Garriott, San Antonio, Texas

In the early 1970's, several toxicologists in the north Texas and Oklahoma City areas began discussion about the need for a regional toxicology group. The growing number of laboratories and practitioners in various areas of toxicology in Texas and its surrounding states, combined with the lack of toxicology groups in the southwest region seemed to set the stage for such an effort.

In the aftermath of a Willy Nelson concert in a small East Texas town, several attendees were admitted to local hospitals from reactions to unknown drug substances. Gary Wimbish at the Fort Worth Medical Examiner's Office discovered a mystery peak in a chromatogram from one of the individuals, and traveled to Dallas to seek input from the Dallas toxicology group at the newly formed Southwestern Institute of Forensic Science. Eb Foerster recognized the peak as one he had encountered and identified it as a phthalate ester from the commercial blood tubes. Thus, one mystery was quickly solved through direct communication between laboratories. The regional group concept further congealed when others in the region voiced their support. Early informal discussions among Dick Prouty, Gary Wimbish, Bill Lowry and Jim Garriott took place around 1973 and 1974 when returning from American Academy of Forensic Sciences meetings. Dick Prouty, Chief Toxicologist of the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner's Office, was a strong proponent and driving force in SAT's formation. Dick hosted one of the first meetings, and encouraged and supported all of his laboratory group's participation. Future support and leaders, like Tim Rohrig, came from these efforts in Oklahoma.

Jim Garriott volunteered to host a meeting at the Institute of Forensic Sciences. A mailing list was compiled by combining resources to include every individual and organization we knew in Texas and Oklahoma who were interested in or involved in toxicology, and a letter was sent to about 35 individuals inviting them to a formative meeting of regional toxicologists. This first meeting was held in Dallas on May 17, 1975. Twenty toxicologists attended, primarily from Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, Oklahoma City, and Galveston. Notable among this group were: Morton F. Mason, J. Rod McCutcheon, toxicologist at Texas Department of Public Safety, William T. Lowry, Gary Wimbish, Richard Prouty, and J. Palmer Saunders, Dean of the School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston.

At the formative first meeting, Jim Garriott was chosen as Acting President, and he appointed a committee of four to assist with the formation of the organization: Dick Prouty, Dr. Palmer Saunders, Dr. Gary Wimbish, and Jim Kluckhohn (of the regional DEA laboratory in Dallas). Dr. Bill Lowry, also at SWIFS in Dallas, volunteered to be acting secretary. Technical topics discussed at this meeting included: detection of cocaine and its metabolites; detection of dihydromorphinone in biological specimens; and use and detection of doxepin. The goals of the group were defined as: 1) providing an opportunity for more basic communication among individuals in the field of toxicology than usually available at national meetings; 2) mutual assistance with problems in the area of analytical toxicology. Many present at this meeting still recall the lively debate concerning the naming of the new group. Among the potential acronyms were: TAT (Texas Association) and SWAT (Southwestern Association) of Toxicologists. Since Texas was the center of the area of membership, some Texans were proponents of using their state in the official title, and an alternate, "SWAT" had a sort of a catch to it, with some perceived association with a popular TV police series. "TAT" was felt by some to imply some geographical exclusivity, while Dr. Morton Mason, respected journal editor for many years, correctly pointed out the grammatical error in use of the term "SWAT". And so "SAT", the Southwestern Association of Toxicologists, became our official designation. The founders all agreed that this group would be largely oriented toward bench level analysts, and would encourage their active participation, as a professional communication medium was lacking for that group in the Southwestern U.S.

In addition to the attendees, another 15 toxicologists responded with interest in the formation of a toxicology organization. Among these were Kurt Dubowski, University of Oklahoma, Ferrin B. Moreland, Chief Toxicologist of the Houston Medical Examiner's Office, Jack E. Wallace, University of Texas Medical Center in San Antonio, William Wilson, Jr., Chief Toxicologist, Bexar County Medical Examiner's Office, San Antonio, and Walter J. Decker, toxicologist at the U.S. Brook Army Medical Center of San Antonio, all of whom would be future members and supporters of the group.

It should be noted at this point that the California Association of Toxicologists (CAT) played an important role in the early formation of the SAT. In fact, SAT was modeled in large part after the example set by CAT. Famous California toxicologists and founders of the CAT such as Bob Cravey, Ray Abernethy, Dick Shaw, and Naresh Jain all offered their support, encouragement and advice along the way.

A second meeting was planned for Fall, and offered to be hosted by Dr. Palmer Saunders at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston on November 8, 1975. The keynote speaker was to be Michael D. Ellis, Director of the Poison Control Center at UTMB, Galveston, who educated the group on "Poisonous Plants and Animals of Texas". Twenty one toxicologists were in attendance, including such notables as Dr. Ferrin Moreland, Dr. Fran Urry in Galveston, Burton Griffin and Rod McCutcheon of the Department of Public Safety State Toxicology Department, as well as the Dallas/Fort Worth group and others from the Houston-Galveston area.

A charter meeting was scheduled to be held at the Dallas Institute of Forensic Sciences in May, 1976. Kurt Dubowski, Morton Mason, Gary Wimbish, Dick Prouty, Rod McCutcheon, Bill Lowry, and Jim Garriott were some present who participated in hammering out a Constitution and by-laws which were to be ready by the Fall meeting. Dick Prouty was elected as the first president of SAT, and he hosted the next meeting on November 6, 1976 in Oklahoma City. Regular meetings were held biannually, hosted by volunteer members in their respective locations, including Austin, San Antonio, Shreveport, Santa Fe, NM, and other locations. The SAT was incorporated with the Texas Secretary of State on January 2, 1984, with the following Directors named in the Articles of Incorporation: J. Rod McCutcheon, Dr. Joe Manno, Ernest Street, Dr. Donald Frederick, Virginia Coldiron, and Joe Castorena.

Today, the SAT has grown to over 200 members and continues to hold biannual meetings and to provide a valuable medium for communication among toxicologists of the southwestern region.

Submitted by James C. Garriott

We invite your comments, corrections, and additional information.