Mayor Bowser Highlights District Efforts to Understand and Respond to Opioid Addiction in Washington, DC
Mayor Muriel Bowser co-hosted the Regional Opioid and Substance Abuse Summit with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. Last October, Mayor Bowser, Governor McAuliffe, and Governor Hogan participated in their first regional meeting in Washington, DC, where they signed the National Capital Region Compact to Combat Opioid Addiction. Today’s summit was an opportunity 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. Shifting the way we frame the conversation can destigmatize those who seek treatment and gives us – the entire region – a greater chance of success,” said Mayor Bowser. “In Washington, DC, through improved interagency collaboration and increased communication, we have developed one of the most efficient and effective strategies to combat this issue. Working together as a region, we will be able to multiply our successes and learn from one another’s challenges.”
In her remarks, Mayor Bowser highlighted the District’s efforts to gain a better understanding of opioid use in Washington, DC, and the strategies put in place to help residents addicted to opioids. For example, between May and August of 2015, the DC Government put in place the Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment pilot initiative. During this pilot, the DC Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services (FEMS) partnered with the DC Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) to offer immediate access and treatment to individuals who experienced an opioid overdose. Through the initiative, the District was able to gather critical information about DC’s opioid epidemic 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 District residents was 51, and the majority of the patients were male (81 percent) and African American (83 percent). 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 DC Department of Health. “We have a broad, coordinated response that includes a team of officials in public health, healthcare and law enforcement. 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.”
By using the information gathered during the Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment pilot initiative, the DC Government has been able to better address opioid abuse in Washington, DC. Prior to the pilot initiative, every DC Fire and EMS response vehicle and medical aid bag was equipped with naloxone, also referred to as Narcan. Now, through the DC Department of Health, the District has also executed 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.
In addition, the DC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) and the Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS) 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. Most recently, over the past month, the District’s new Forensic Chemistry Unit has been collecting and testing syringes found on the scene of potential opioid overdoses. As new synthetic drugs emerge, this testing will provide more information about addiction in Washington, DC.