“Don’t Mute DC,” met to address and combat against the opioid crisis on June 28. (Photo by Sharece Crawford)

By Sharece Crawford
Special to the AFRO

District of Columbia activists sprung into action to address another epidemic plaguing the area and nation — the opioid crisis. Young Black women Jayla McBroom and Cairo Pondexter are two of the most recent victims to the opioid crisis in Washington, D.C. They were both laid to rest on the same day. Over 400 opioid related deaths in Washington contributed to the CDC’s record 90,722 overdose deaths in the U.S. through November 2020. 

We are once again robbed of more lives by the amount of drugs brought in our community. We need to invest in these children,” said Shakita McBroom, Jayla’s mother. “Our children’s lives matter. I want people to be in tune with what’s going on in real time and not waiting until it’s a massive blow up. It’s corrupt out here and my daughter’s name is not going to be in vain. We are going to take her message to the nation.”

In December 2018, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the District’s Department of Behavioral Health announced the release of LIVE. LONG. DC., the District’s strategic plan to reduce opioid use and misuse and to reduce opioid-related deaths by 50 percent by 2020.

Much of the plan’s work was supported by $21 million through the State Opioid Response (SOR) grant, disbursed over a one-year period, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Washington, D.C. received an additional $21 million, for a total of $42 million over the last two years. 

“I’ve been calling out for the city to help my daughter and there were always frequent excuses. And for those who could help their hands were tied. It was only so far they could go,” said McBroom “These kids don’t have a fair chance and the ball is dropped over and over and over again. So many of the issues we face stem from unaddressed mental issues.”

Though residents complain they don’t always have capacity to meet the demand, according to the D.C. Department of Behavioral health service providers, they are in the community to save lives. It takes up to three weeks to reserve the mobile behavioral health van.

In an April report from the D.C. Chief Medical Examiner’s Office — 411 fatal opioid overdoses were reported in the District in 2020, compared to 281 in 2019. Such data, activists say, illustrates the failure of a key component of the District’s “Live Long DC” program.

Wayne Turnage, deputy mayor for health and human services said drug overdose numbers could have been a lot worse had the city not distributed, “more than 43,000 naloxone kits in 2020, compared to about 15,000 in 2019 and just 3,500 in 2018.” 

Naloxone (also known as Narcan) kits are nasal kits designed to be an easy and quick way for family, friends and first responders to provide life-saving help to someone who has overdosed.

The Overdose Prevention and Naloxone Pilot Program, implemented by the Department of Human Services, provides willing and able homeless shelter staff the information and tools needed to save someone experiencing an opioid overdose using Naloxone, while waiting for emergency responders to arrive.

The following shelters have been selected for the pilot program. There may be opportunities to expand to other shelters depending on the success of the pilot.

  1. 801 East Shelter: 2700 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, S.E. 
  2. New York Avenue Shelter: 1355 New York Avenue, N.E.
  3. Adams Place Shelter & Drop-In Center: 2210 Adams Place, N.E.
  4. Harriet Tubman Shelter & Day Center: 1900 Massachusetts Avenue, S.E., Bldg. 27
  5. Patricia Handy Place for Women: 810 5th Street, N.W.
  6. Nativity Shelter for Women: 6010 Georgia Avenue, N.W.

For more information on the DHS Opioid Overdose Prevention and Naloxone Training Pilot Program, contact (202) 698-1860.

Dr. Anis Khalaf, Founder of the Health Club Network provided a visual of a penny and sprinkle of the powerful synthetic drug fentanyl. “An amount this small can cause an overdose.” Dr. Anis said “This is really a crisis.”

“My daughter was murdered. Period,” said McBroom “When you put that stuff (fentanyl) out here, you are a murderer.”

The global consulting firm McKinsey & Company agreed to pay nearly $600 million for its role in advising businesses on how to sell more prescription opioid painkillers amid a nationwide overdose crisis. Most of the money is in a $573 million settlement reached with 47 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories, but the company said it had deals with a total of 49 states.

Jonese Patterson, a parent advocate from Parent Watchsaid, “I spoke with behavioral health experts advocating for funds and resources from Mayor Bowswer’s $59Million to be allocated directly to community members as health experts in their own respective communities.” 

“I want legislators to know that laws have to change to the 21st century. We can not use outdated policies to satisfy the needs of today. The judicial system in D.C. is a complete joke, emphasized McBroom. 

“They need drug treatment for children so we can get the proper help for our children. The judiciary process has to change. I’d like to see a better exit plan that goes back and actually checks on the status of the children in recovery,” McBroom continued.

Patterson said modernizing the legislation is exactly what she and Parent Watch are working to do.

“That’s what we are going to work on, turning the modern day issues that our youth face into legislation. We need to name it system failure,” Patterson said.

As a response to the call to action. “My Recovery DC” is the new initiative that’s being rolled out in conjunction with Mayor Bowser’s “Live. Long. DC.” There will be signs on Metro trains and buses promoting the effort. The signs will direct people to visit “MyRecoveryDC.org,” which shows users how to find treatment and recovery services in the District.

Former Black Lives Matter activists are calling for community members to identify where the youth are getting the poison.

“My daughter is a victim of a failed system. The world will know her name. ‘Jayla’s Way,’ will be all about supporting parents who have youth in the system.” McBroom said of the organization created in honor of her daughter’s name.  “A child should not have to get in trouble or go through the judicial system in order to get access to help.”

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