The District of Columbia, like the rest of the nation, is dealing with the opioid and heroin crisis, with strategies to reach out to those who are addicted to the substances. One example of outreach is the recently held “Heroin and Opioid Awareness, Prevention and Intervention Day.”

Activities took place on July 20 at Potomac Gardens Park in Southeast. There were tables of organizations and non-profits that deal with the crisis, with representatives from the District’s U.S. Attorneys’ Office as leaders of the event.

Addiction to opioids is rising in the White population across America.(CanStock Photo)

Participants could receive counseling and information on opioids as well as find out other services available for other health afflictions. “This type of event is needed in D.C.,” Carolyn Crank, who works for the U.S. Attorneys’ Office, told the AFRO. “This is not just affecting White people,” she said.

During the months of May and August 2015, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration set up a pilot program co-managed by the Department of Behavioral Health and the D.C. Department of Fire and Emergency Services. When the pilot was over, it was revealed that FEMS responded to 104 overdoses, with seven patients experiencing a second overdose.

The average age of District residents affected with opioid abuse was 51 (81 percent) and a majority of patients treated for opioid overdoses were male and Black (83 percent).

On Feb. 21 the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner released a report stating that 395 deaths occurred because of opioid use from January 1, 2014 – November 30, 2016 in the city. The report states that 78 percent of the deaths were among Blacks and 25 percent of those cases were reported in Ward 8.

On May 9, Bowser (D) co-hosted a regional opioid-substance abuse conference with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), where the leaders talked about the latest developments in the crisis.

Heroin was also a popular drug in the District during the 1970s, said Michael Pryor, a community prevention specialist in the prevention services division at the Department of Behavioral Health. “You had many men coming home from the Vietnam War and they were addicted to it,” Pryor said. “They used heroin to ease the pain of injury. Heroin was a popular drug until the crack epidemic hit in the 1980s.”

Margot Kirkland-Issac, director of programs for “Voices for a Second Chance,” an advocacy and service organization for incarcerated District residents, told the AFRO that she sees the effects of the opioid-heroin crisis every day. “It is ripping apart families,” Kirkland said. “Our young people are now using them. We are trying to get the information out there about those drugs.”

Brenda Horner, supervisory community outreach specialist for the District’s U.S. Attorney Office, along with Wendy Poulhaus, executive assistant to the U.S. Attorney for external affairs, told the {AFRO} that the Potomac Gardens event is the second in a series. “We had an event similar to this at Marvin Gaye Park last year,” Poulhaus said. “It was so successful that we decided to do it again but in a different location.”

Horner said that her office is looking at similar events for later this year.