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DC's Fledgling Forensic Chemistry Lab Wins National Award for Work With First Responders

Monday, October 22, 2018

It’s not even one-year-old, but DC’s Forensic Chemistry Unit (FCU) already has been nationally- recognized for its exemplary working relationships with its public safety counterparts. The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Innovative Collaborations with First Responder Communities” award recently was given to DC’s Public Health Laboratory, which houses FCU.  

The official description of the award is as follows: “The award for Innovative Collaborations with First Responder Communities is given to an institution that promotes partnerships and collaborations with first responder communities, which contributes to ongoing improvements in preparedness and response activities. This year’s award goes to the District of Columbia Public Health Laboratory. The DC Public Health Laboratory has recently expanded its testing capabilities to include testing of controlled substances within the Chemistry Section, which also houses the Biomonitoring and Analytical Chemistry Unit (BACU), which prepares for chemical terrorism attacks in the District. It was from the experiences of the BACU that the FCU concept was born and now fully a reality. After receiving ISO 17025 accreditation, they have taken over processing of all federal drug cases in the District from the DEA. These cases are being tried by the United States Attorney's Office. Working within the Laboratory Response Network for Chemical Threats, and closely with the Metropolitan Police Department and DC Fire and EMS, this has allowed the laboratory to conduct critical investigations on drug impurities, support knowledge sharing with law enforcement regarding fentanyl, streamline synthetic opioid detection in syringes for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and begin screening controlled buys within the District to gain an upper hand on detecting emerging drugs.”–Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A couple of years ago, Mayor Muriel Bowser walked through the Department of Forensic Sciences with its director, Dr. Jenifer Smith, and asked, “Where’s our drug lab?” The Mayor immediately recognized that DC government should have the capability to do drug testing itself, and that it should not be dependent on the federal government to do it. With the Mayor’s backing, FCU was opened for business this past April. DFS employees can now bring in drug evidence and test it in the same facility, greatly reducing turnaround time to get answers out sooner to the DC public.