By Aria Brent,
AFRO News Writer,

In the first six months of 2023, D.C. already leads the nation in the number of overdoses from overall drug use according to the Center for Disease Control. This year, health advocates called for Mayor Muriel Bowser to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency urging her to invest $50 million in treatment after 24 people overdosed in 24 hours on April 3 and 4.

There were a total of 448 deaths related to overdoses in D.C. over the course of 2022. In the nation’s capital, 72.3 percent of people who died of overdoses were male and 86.6 percent were Black in 2021.

“We know that in Black communities, there’s higher amounts of poverty. Where there are higher amounts of poverty, people are always looking for ways to escape,” stated Almustaphael Al-Kahlil-Bey, a licensed professional counselor (LPC) and clinician at Rebound Health and Wellness in the D.C. area.

Al-Kahlil-Bey has over 30 years of experience in helping both himself and others overcome their battles with substance abuse. He has been committed to sobriety since 1986 and has seen opioids seep into communities, tearing neighborhoods and families apart. 

Al-Khalil-Bey noted that unfortunately substance abuse has been in the Black community for a long time which is reflected in statistics. However, now that it’s affecting our White counterparts it’s become an issue worth addressing on a legal level. 

“I think that one of the reasons why it has become such a big problem is because it has gone to the White communities, and people are dying from it in the White communities,” explained Al-Khalil-Bey. “People have always died from it. I think that one of the main reasons that it has gotten the media’s attention the way that it has, is because people are actually dying in all areas.”

Naloxone, known as Narcan is now becoming available over the counter and courses teaching both students and teachers how to distribute it are being offered. It is a popular, synthetic drug that reverses opioid overdoses by blocking the opiate receptors in the nervous system. 

“It’s  more available than anything else and sometimes it scares me in the sense that being a clinician, and seeing the availability of it gives a lot of the students privilege, or the okay to use drugs, knowing that there’s something that could save them,” said Al-Khalil-Bey. 

Geena Crosby is a prevention specialist with over 10 years of experience helping youth and young people with drug and alcohol prevention in the Columbus, OH., area. She furthered Al-Kahlil-Bey’s point, by explaining that the opioid crisis has been going on for years and can be looked at in stages. However the most recent instance of people getting addicted to opioids is what seemed to shine a light on the decades long epidemic. 

“The opioid epidemic has actually been going on a lot longer than people realize. When we started to see it being more prominent in White communities, that’s kind of when people think it started. When in reality, it started back in like the late 70s, and early 80s,” explained Crosby.

Crosby shared that if we’re going to provide resources for those suffering with addiction we need to recognize what addiction is and understand that it’s a disease. 

“I think the first step is to educate yourself on what dependence and addiction is in the first place.I think a lot of people still have the belief that it’s a choice and we know that opioids  specifically,impacts the brain and you can become dependent [on them]  which then can turn into addiction,” said Crosby. “It isn’t a choice, it’s a disease, and it should be treated as such like any other disease.”

As opioid overdoses continue to take the lives of D.C. residents, many are seeking action to help those struggling with addiction.