From left: Pictured in 2014, John Mercer, chairman of the board of directors, RAP, Inc.; Ron Clark; Michael Pickering, RAP, Inc. (Courtesy of RAP, Inc.)
From left: Pictured in 2014, John Mercer, chairman of the board of directors, RAP, Inc.; Ron Clark; Michael Pickering, RAP, Inc. (Courtesy of RAP, Inc.)

As we recognize the third anniversary of Ron Clark’s death, America marks the terrible milestone of a historic number of drug overdose deaths – 107,600. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported the nation has now reached the highest one-year number of drug overdose deaths in its history. Most of the deaths involved fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.

The District of Columbia suffered a significant share of drug overdose deaths – 411. Every month, an average of 34 of our neighbors, relatives and friends die from overdosing, mainly on fentanyl. In 2021, every ward in the city lost people due to opioid overdose; wards 7 and 8 suffered the greatest losses. While we know the names and faces of those who died, their loved one wonder what could have been done to save them?

The answer today is the same as it has been for many, many years – treatment. But while treatment exists, full funding for treatment does not.

From the time Clark co-founded RAP in 1970 and saw it incorporated on Juneteenth that year, the organization has provided treatment for persons with substance use disorders. Through the years, RAP has struggled to find the money to pay for clients’ care. Although the city funded various services to meet a public health need, there have always been more people seeking help than dollars to care for them.

Whatever the battles with difficulties and lean times, Clark’s goal for the organization never changed: to see RAP stand as a community institution, available to help anyone in need.

Today RAP continues to serve. The organization’s Eckington campus is a port in the storm for more than 1,000 individuals a year including homeless persons, people involved with the criminal justice system, the LGBTQ community and persons living with HIV.

With the administrative support of Gaudenzia, Inc., a nonprofit organization nationally known for its work providing services for persons suffering substance use disorder, RAP offers clients intensive outpatient care; integrated medical care; transitional housing; mental health services and more – in addition to residential treatment.

Michael Pickering, the second executive director in RAP’s history and a former resident himself, has been at the helm since 2014 when Clark retired for health reasons. Pickering has put into place innovative bridge services to improve the care journey of clients. For example, medically-supervised detox is now available 24 hours a day.

Pickering prints hundreds of outreach/information cards and distributes them where those in need will have easy access including: homeless shelters, hospital emergency rooms, at locations of other providers of substance use disorder and mental health services, health centers and even community events.

The mission is to reach people where they are. From detox, RAP assesses the individual and refers the person to the appropriate provider.

Needing to focus on community outreach and development, Pickering handed over the day-to-day management of treatment demands to a new leadership team: Kristy Blalock, executive director and Virginia Reid, deputy executive director.

The team has combined experience in the behavioral health field of close to 50 years. John Hogan, who has been RAP’s medical director for more than 25 years continues to serve. Brian Huggins, clinical director with almost 10 years in the field of behavioral health has joined the team. There is a great blend of new energy and institutional memory.

In July, RAP, Inc. will observe 52 years of service to the citizens of Washington, D. C. Given the increase in drug overdose deaths plaguing the city and the continuing abuse of all drugs including fentanyl, methamphetamines, cocaine and prescription pain medications, RAP will undoubtedly be needed far into the future. There is no doubt that the organization will stand ready to serve – as long as funding remains available to provide financial support.

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