Office of the Chief Medical Examiner

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OCME Forensic Toxicology Department

The toxicology laboratory for the District of Columbia, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) serves the residents of the District of Columbia and their families. The laboratory provides postmortem toxicological analyses of biological specimens for medical examiner casework. The results of those analyses support OCME by aiding the pathologists in determining the cause and manner of death. In addition, the laboratory offers testing services to both local and federal law enforcement agencies in the investigation of driving under the influence (DUI) and drug facilitated sexual assault (DFSA) casework. Furthermore, in 2011 the laboratory partnered with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), as well as the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to develop a comprehensive breath alcohol testing program. The Toxicology Unit is comprised of toxicologists, technicians and administrative staff. The laboratory provides testing for approximately 1,700 cases per year in its state of the art facility. The staff maintains pertinent testing records, case files and biological evidence samples. In addition, the Unit provides courtroom testimony, which can encompass information pertaining to testing procedures, as well as the interpretation of the analytical results. The staff stays on the cutting edge of technology and drug trends by reading recent literature and by participating in scientific meetings and workshops on a routine basis.

It is of the utmost importance that the laboratory provides quality results that are both timely and comprehensive. The laboratory is routinely inspected by the American Board of Forensic Toxicology and continues to maintain its fully accredited status.

Chief Toxicologist, Lucas Zarwell, MFS, FTS-ABFT

Lucas Zarwell has provided toxicology services for the District for over 10 years. He has been the Chief Toxicologist since 2011, served as Deputy Chief Toxicologist from 2008-2011, and worked as a lead toxicologist since 2002. Prior employments include Pre-Trial Services Forensic Drug Testing Laboratory, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) Forensic Toxicology Laboratory, and Poison Lab Incorporated (San Diego, CA). Mr. Zarwell helped re-establish the Forensic Toxicology Unit for the Medical Examiner in 2002 and lead a dedicated team to a nationally accredited the laboratory in 2011.
Mr. Zarwell obtained a Masters in Forensic Science with an emphasis in toxicology from George Washington University in 1999 and has an undergraduate degree from the University of San Diego in both biology and marine science. In addition, Mr. Zarwell maintains his certification from the American Board of Forensic Toxicology as a Forensic Toxicology Specialist.
Mr. Zarwell provides lectures and presentations to various professional and educational entities, local law enforcement, attorneys, and regional medical staff. Lucas is married, has two children, and lives in Washington, DC.

Deputy Chief Toxicologist, Samantha S. Tolliver, PhD

Dr. Samantha S. Tolliver hails from Falling Waters, WV. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry from West Virginia State University (Institute, WV). In 2002, she moved to Miami, FL to pursue a Master’s Degree in Forensic Sciences from Florida International University (FIU). While there she did an intensive study, with the aid of the Miami-Dade County Police Department K-9 Unit, to identify the signature odor of human remains. Upon graduation, she began working at the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department (MDME). While serving as a Toxicologist at the MDME, she decided to go back to school to pursue her Ph.D. in Chemistry. Her doctoral studies were focused in the field of postmortem toxicology, where she studied the effects of drug concentration changes in the human body after death. She graduated from FIU with her Doctoral degree in December 2010 and soon after relocated to Houston, Texas. While there, she served as the Scientific Director for a Clinical and Forensic Toxicology laboratory. Although the lab was great she really missed the East Coast and wanted to come back ‘home.’ She found a fantastic opportunity in the Nation’s Capital and now serves as the Deputy Chief Toxicologist for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. She has a passion for postmortem research and is thankful for the opportunity to serve the residents of the District of Columbia.


American Board of Forensic Toxicology Accreditation

The OCME forensic toxicology laboratory fulfilled the accreditation requirements for ABFT and is granted full accreditation for the period of October 1, 2011-October 31, 2013.

Breath Alcohol Program

The Breath Alcohol Program is responsible for the certification, calibration and maintenance of the breath alcohol instrumentation used by the Metropolitan Police Department. The Toxicology Unit currently has certified technicians and a Breath Alcohol Program Manager whose responsibility it is to maintain the evidential and training instruments, training and licensing operators as well as provides expert courtroom testimony.

Internship Program

The DC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner offers limited unpaid internship opportunities to interested students in graduate or undergraduate programs in death investigation, pathology, toxicology or related sciences. Each request will be evaluated and a response will be sent 15 days after receipt. Acceptance for internship is at the discretion of the Chief Medical Examiner (CME).

For more information in reference to internships, please click the "Educational Information" tab.