D.C.-Area Officials Respond to Opioid Crisis

Blacks Make up 81 Percent of Region's Overdoses

Blacks are prescribed less opioids than whites, often because of unfounded speculation. (Courtesy of Everyday Health)
Blacks are prescribed less opioids than whites, often because of unfounded speculation. (Courtesy of Everyday Health)

In a follow-up to their first regional meeting in October where they signed the National Capital Region Compact to Combat Opioid Addiction, greater D.C. area officials convened once again to address the ongoing crisis.

Mayor Muriel Bowser co-hosted the Regional Opioid and Substance Abuse Summit on Tuesday, May 9, with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, allowing for hundreds of policymakers and public health and safety professionals from across the region to discuss the many challenges associated with the growing opioid epidemic.

“Opioid addiction must be treated like the health issue that it is,” Bowser said. “Shifting the way we frame the conversation can destigmatize those who seek treatment and gives us — the entire region — a greater chance of success.

“In Washington, D.C., through improved interagency collaboration and increased communication, we have developed one of the most efficient and effective strategies to combat this issue,” she said. “Working together as a region, we will be able to multiply our successes and learn from one another’s challenges.”

The mayor highlighted during the summit the District’s efforts to gain a better understanding of opioid use in the city, and the strategies put in place to help residents addicted to opioids.

Between May and August of 2015, the city government put in place the Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment pilot initiative.

During this pilot, the D.C. Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services (FEMS) partnered with the Department of Behavioral Health to offer immediate access and treatment to individuals who experienced an opioid overdose.

They said through the initiative, the city gathered critical information about the epidemic in D.C. and the demographics of those affected.

During the pilot period, FEMS responded to 104 overdoses, with seven patients experiencing a second overdose.
The average age for users stood at 51, majority male at 81 percent and African-American at 83 percent.

They assert that of those who were assessed, 48 percent were either verbally committed to an action plan or were transported immediately for treatment services.

“The opioid crisis looks different in the District compared to our neighbors, but our commitment to addressing it is equally as strong,” said Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the D.C. Department of Health.

According to the city, prior to the pilot initiative, every FEMS response vehicle and medical aid bag came equipped with naloxone.

Now, through the D.C. Department of Health, the District has also started a Community Naloxone Pilot Program, a program to train and certify staff and community members affiliated with the city’s needle exchange program to administer intra-nasal naloxone as an opioid overdose prevention.

The D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Department of Forensic Sciences have collaborated to improve toxicology testing around opioid abuse.

In the past, OCME reported deaths from mixed drugs as “mixed drug toxicity” on death certificates.

For the past three years, the city has mandated that the drug or drugs be listed on a person’s death certificate, allowing the District to better track specific drugs.

“We have a broad, coordinated response that includes a team of officials in public health, health care and law enforcement,” Nesbitt said. “It starts with gathering and sharing data so we can identify problems early, and then deploys a range of intervention strategies to reduce the risk to individuals and communities.”

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About Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer 248 Articles
Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s millennial publication. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, she attended Howard University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. A proud southern girl, her lineage can be traced to the Gullah people inhabiting the low-country of South Carolina. The history of the Gullah people and the Geechee Dialect can be found on the top floor of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. In her spare time she enjoys watching either college football or the Food Channel and experimenting with make-up. When she’s not writing professionally she can be found blogging at www.sarafinasaid.com. E-mail: Swright@washingtoninformer.com Social Media Handles: Twitter: @dreamersexpress, Instagram: @Sarafinasaid, Snapchat: @Sarafinasaid