CommunityHealth

Opioid Abuse Takes its Toll in D.C.

While most of the attention for the past 16 months has been on the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, opioid abuse in the District has increased, raising concerns of city officials.

“I recently had to say goodbye to my daughter because of opioid abuse,” said Sherita McBroom, ANC commissioner for district 8E01 in Ward 8, during a forum at the Secret Garden in Southeast on June 28.

“I have to face the issue every day since my 17-year-old daughter Jaylen died of opioid use on June 22,” she said. “She transitioned during the night. I will play that scene over and over again for the rest of my life.”

While McBroom didn’t offer details, she blames opioids as the root cause of her daughter’s death.

According to the D.C. Office of the Medical Examiner, 411 people died from opioid overdoses in 2020 compared to 198 homicides. In the first quarter of 2021, 87 opioid-related deaths have been recorded. The 2020 opioid death rate serves as twice the number of deaths reported in 2018.

Identifying and Battling Opioids 

Opioids, potentially potent painkillers, include prescription drugs such as OxyContin and Percocet as well as the illegal street drug heroin. Medical experts say opioids taken properly effectively negate pain.

But when abused, opioids can become addictive, adversely affecting the brain.

Community activists and law enforcement officials cite heroin as a long-known dangerous street drug. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has also been identified among street drugs as another deadly narcotic.

In the pamphlet, “The Dangers of Fentanyl & Counterfeit Pills,” published by Journeyworks, fentanyl has been cited as being 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin. Fentanyl slows down a person’s breathing and heart rate and can lead to death. However, naloxone can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

The District government has an active campaign to combat growing opioid abuse. In June, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser launched a public education initiative, “My Recovery DC.” The program consists of signs on Metro trains and buses promoting the anti-opioid abuse effort and encourages residents to visit the website, myrecoverydc.org for information on treatment and recovery services.

Dr. Shauna White, executive director of the D.C. Board of Pharmacy and program manager of the Pharmaceutical Control Division, said the city government “definitely want to create awareness about the resources that are available for individuals struggling with substance abuse disorder.”

“Right now, we know we do have some issues with substance abuse in the District of Columbia, White told reporters June 15 on WUSA-TV. “They have been heightened during the pandemic.”

She said during the coronavirus pandemic, users either delayed or didn’t get the appropriate treatment needed to grapple with opioid use. She also said drugs laced with fentanyl have resulted in more fatalities.

“In 2015, fentanyl contributed to about 15% of overdose deaths in the District of Columbia and currently it’s involved in about 95% of those overdose deaths” she said.

Dr. Nura Green Lane, a public health activist residing in Ward 7, said the community needs to take a village approach when addressing opioid addiction and abuse.

“What happened to Sherita’s daughter should not have happened,” Lane said at the Secret Garden forum. “When something like this happens, everybody’s child is at risk. We have to continue to ring the alarm. You can get naloxone at different pharmacies in the city. We have to fight for our families and our children’s sake.”

McBroom said if she knew the resources available to combat her daughter’s opioid problem, she would have been more proactive in helping her. She urged others to be vigilant against opioid abuse.

“I had been hearing that opioid abuse was a white’s people problem – it’s not,” McBroom said. “A lot of people have a lack of knowledge about this. It’s not a color thing but involves people no matter their race, creed, religion or income level. Opioid abuse is running rampant in our community and it needs to stop.”

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