By AFRO Staff

Access to resources was a key focus on Aug. 31 as organizations and agencies across the country worked to promote International Overdose Awareness Day.

In the nation’s capital, Mayor Muriel Bowser stressed the importance of access to care, education and harm reduction tools to curb opioid overdoses in the District.

“We want all District residents and their loved ones to know that we have resources available to help prevent or overcome opioid addiction and misuse—including free deliveries of Naloxone or free transportation to and from substance abuse treatment,” said Mayor Bowser, in a statement sent to members of the press. “Let’s work together as a community to spread awareness, prevent overdose deaths and save lives.”

Members of the Bowser Administration have worked with leaders out of the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) to launch the “This Time, It’s Different” education campaign. The initiative is part of LIVE.LONG.DC. 2.0,” the official strategy adopted by city leaders to cut down on opioid misuse and overdose deaths. At the heart of the “This Time, It’s Different” campaign: a call on opioid users who have failed sobriety attempts in their past to try again.

The LIVE.LONG.DC. 2.0 plan offers a range of services and supports, including opportunities to enroll in treatment programs every day of the week. Residents can get rides to and from their appointments for opioid addiction treatment, and if they need to address housing or employment concerns, support for that is available as well. There is also support for people looking to go through the symptoms of withdrawal in a safe space, and a wide variety of other resources available.

According to the National Institute of Drugs, “opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine and many others.” 

According to the D.C. Health Department (D.C. Health), “in 2020, there were 411 overdose deaths that involved the use of opioids in the District.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that, “worldwide, in 2019 about 600,000 deaths were attributable to drug use. Close to 80 percent of these deaths are related to opioids, with about 25 percent of those deaths caused by opioid overdose.”

“There are effective treatment interventions for opioid dependence that can decrease the risk of overdose, yet less than 10 percent of people who need such treatment are receiving it,” reports the WHO.

Nationwide there has been a push to get Naloxone kits into the hands of those in the throes of drug addiction to fight opioid overdose. Narcan is a popular brand of the drug in the United States. It can reverse the effects of a drug overdose in a matter of minutes, if administered within the right amount of time. 

“Thousands of opioid overdoses have been reversed using naloxone and DBH is doubling down on harm reduction strategies proven to prevent overdose deaths with widely available Naloxone and increased access to fentanyl test strips,” according to information released by D.C. Health. “Naloxone kits are distributed by DBH and community partners at 130 locations across in the District of Columbia, and by mail or personal delivery.”

All eight wards in the District of Columbia offer naloxone kits free of charge and there is no requirement for a prescription or an identification card. D.C. Health officials say they have dispersed more than 100,000 of the lifesaving medical kits– and for good reason. 

“The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reports the presence of fentanyl in 99 percent of all overdose deaths, and the number of overdose has continued to rise in recent years driven by fentanyl,” says D.C. Health. “DBH also distributes free fentanyl test strips, which can detect the presence of this deadly synthetic in other drugs. DBH and its partners have expanded distribution of free fentanyl test strips with 56,000 strips distributed over the past year.”

To find a pick up station or arrange the drop off of a naloxone kit please text “LiveLongDC” to 888-811. If you or someone you know is ready to go to treatment, please text “Ready” to the same number and get a roster of available centers that are open in real-time. The 888-811 number will also help those in need access test strips to determine if fentanyl or the tranquilizer Xylazine is present in a drug prior to use.

This year, the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) worked with D.C. Health and the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department to introduce a new resource to the community: vending machines with naloxone and fentanyl strips. 

The initiative is just one tool in the toolbox to fight drug overdose and was made possible by a D.C. Health grant to Family and Medical Counseling Services and HIPS (Honoring Individual Power and Strength), a community health organization that offers free HIV and STD testing, medication assisted treatment, syringe access and disposal and case management services. 

The vending machines made their debut in April and are at the following locations:

  • Engine #7: 1101 Half Street SW
  • Engine #2: 500 F Street NW
  • Engine #33: 101 Atlantic Street SE
  • Engine #27: 4260 Minnesota Avenue NE
  • Whitman Walker Health- Max Robinson Center: 1201 Sycamore Dr. SE
  • Bread for the City: 1525 7th Street NW
  • HIPS: 906 H Street NW

“Opioid overdose death is preventable,” said DBH Director Barbara J. Bazron, Ph.D, in a statement. “Naloxone and other lifesaving resources are proven to save lives. Our goal is to help people live addiction free lives. We make treatment easy to get and offer supports to maintain recovery.”