Opioid-related overdose deaths in the District have risen steadily in recent years and the pandemic exacerbated the problem, with lockdowns initially making it harder to access addiction services. In addition, a large portion of drugs — including heroin, cocaine, MDMA and methamphetamine — is now being laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Last year, there were 427 opioid-related overdose deaths in the District. According to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, 94% of those deaths included the presence of fentanyl.
As we mark today’s annual observance of International Overdose Awareness Day, August 31, the city’s Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) and its community partners have announced the continued expansion of its naloxone distribution program and the launch of a new campaign to encourage treatment for those suffering from addiction. Both initiatives are part of LIVE.LONG.DC. 2.0, the District’s strategic plan to reduce opioid use, misuse, and related deaths.
DBH makes naloxone, a life-saving medication used to reverse an opioid-related overdose, widely available and easy to get for free, without a prescription or ID required in pharmacies and at community sites. The program has grown from a handful of initial distribution sites to nearly 40 pharmacy locations and over 120 community organizations in all eight Wards.
In addition, in 2020, DBH launched a unique naloxone distribution service. By texting the words LiveLongDC to 888-811, District residents get a message back with a link to a map of the locations where they can pick up naloxone. Recently, an option for free home delivery of naloxone was added to the service.
DBH has increased the number naloxone kits distributed year-over-year with 56,810 kits provided in FY2021, an 78% increase over FY20.
“Naloxone should be near at hand like any lifesaving medication. Family, friends, and others in the community can use naloxone to save someone who is overdosing,” said Dr. Barbara J. Bazron, Director of the Department of Behavioral Health. “We want all District residents to be ready to save a life and carry naloxone.”
Recognizing that a substance use disorder is a disease and that users often must seek treatment multiple times as part of their recovery journey, DBH has launched a new public education campaign designed to encourage users to try again at treatment with the hope that “this time can be different.” The campaign highlights DBH’s comprehensive set of treatment supports, including:
- Free substance use disorder treatment, available seven days a week at sites across the District;
- Three medications proven effective at treating the disease of addiction;
- Enhanced care coordination so that individuals receive comprehensive care;
- Peer counselors who have been there, and can support an individual through treatment and recovery; and
- Transportation, recovery housing and other support services.
“We need DC residents with substance use disorders to know that DBH has the services and supports to help them succeed,” said Bazron. “We know that treatment works, and recovery is possible.”
Information about the District’s recovery services is available online at MyRecoveryDC.org or by calling the 24-hour Access Helpline at 888-793-4357 (7WE-HELP).