Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, mgreen@afro.com

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health announced the launch of “LIVE. LONG. DC.,” the strategic plan to address misuse, addiction and deaths related to opioid abuse by 2020.

In 2016, the nation’s capital had one of the highest rates in the country for opioid related deaths according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  With 209 people dying of opioid-related deaths in 2016 in the District, the rate was 30 deaths per every 100,000 persons- higher than the national rate of 13.3 deaths per 100,000 persons.

LIVE. LONG. D.C. was created to reduce the District’s opioid crisis. (Courtesy Photo)

Considering such high numbers, D.C. is kicking into high gear to minimize opioid-abuse related issues and tragedies.  LIVE. LONG. DC. was launched with hopes to reduce opioid related deaths by 50 percent by 2020.

“This plan outlines how District agencies will work with our public and community partners to tackle D.C.’s opioid epidemic,” Mayor Bowser said in a statement.

Bowser noted that LIVE. LONG. D.C. addresses the crisis as it specifically relates to the District and its residents.

“We know that the opioid epidemic in our city looks different than how the epidemic is talked about nationwide,” she said. “This plan was created in response to the specific needs of our community and focuses our resources on increasing awareness and prevention, enhancing treatment offerings and strengthening recovery supports.”

LIVE. LONG. DC. was created by a public-private working group of more than 40 stakeholders.  According to the statement from the mayor’s office, as the working group developed ideas for LIVE. LONG. DC., certain plans began to be immediately implemented.

The plans are surrounding prevention, education, engagement, awareness, support and developing health, criminal justice plans and law plans. Below are the seven goals outlined, according to the mayor’s office:

  • “Goal 1: Reduce legislative and regulatory barriers to create a comprehensive surveillance and response that supports sustainable solutions to emerging trends in substance use disorder, opioid-related overdoses, and opioid-related fatalities.
  • Goal 2:Educate District residents and key stakeholders on the risks of opioid use disorders and effective prevention and treatment options.
  • Goal 3:Engage health professionals and organizations in the prevention and early intervention of substance use disorder among District residents.
  • Goal 4:Support the awareness and availability of, and access to, harm reduction services in Washington, D.C.
  • Goal 5:Ensure equitable and timely access to high-quality substance use disorder treatment and recovery support services.
  • Goal 6:Develop and implement a shared vision between Washington, D.C.’s justice and public health agencies to address the needs of individuals who come in contact with the criminal justice system to develop a culture of empathy for residents and their families.
  • Goal 7:Develop effective law enforcement strategies that reduce the supply of illegal opioids in Washington, D.C.”

District officials are confident that the plan will improve the District’s opioid crisis.

“By employing evidence-based strategies and promising practices, LIVE. LONG. DC. will serve as the roadmap for us to enhance the work that we all do to create prevention, treatment and recovery strategies that reduce opioid use disorder in the District,” Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, interim director of the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health said. “We have been consistent in making progress and this brings us closer to meeting our goal.”

Much of the plan will be funded through a $21 million grant from the State Opioid Resource (SOR), which will be disbursed over one year from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  The District will also receive another $21 million through the grant through the next federal fiscal year with a total of $42 million over two years.

The SOR grant is allotted to, “increase access to medication-assisted treatment, which combines behavioral therapy and medications to treat opioid use disorders; reduce unmet treatment needs; and lower opioid overdose related deaths through the provision of prevention, treatment, and recovery activities, including for heroin, illicit fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, and prescription opioids,” according to the mayor’s office.

In addition to SOR funds, federal grants will be utilized to support LIVE. LONG. DC.

The Prescription Drug Overdose: Date-Drive Prevention Initiative (DDPI), a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grant will be used to benefit D.C.’s ability to expand community prevention programs as well as data collection and analysis surrounding opioid misuse, abuse and death.   Furthermore, the CDC sourced Public Health Crisis NOFO grant affords $3.7 million to improve the District’s ability to respond to extraordinary increases in opioid overdoses and strengthen “surveillance and prevention efforts,” the statement explains.

Overall, LIVE. LONG. DC. was created to enhance existing interagency work with the District government to reduce opioid misuse and inform residents about potential risks and treatment.

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor