A health forum on D.C.'s opioid crisis is held in Howard University's Cramton Auditorium in northwest D.C. on Nov. 2. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
A health forum on D.C.'s opioid crisis is held in Howard University's Cramton Auditorium in northwest D.C. on Nov. 2. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

With the number of opioid overdoses in the District nearly tripling over the past two years and showing greater impacts on Wards 5, 6, 7 and 8, legislative and health care professionals met for a symposium at Howard University on Nov. 2 to discuss how to stem the tide.

The spate of deaths hit the city’s population of older blacks particularly hard. In 2016, 78 percent of all opioid-related deaths were African-Americans, with 81 percent between 40 to 69 years old.

“We must work to understand the multilevel and overlapping nature of the epidemic and their social and structural determinants,” said Dr. Janice Berry Edwards, a clinical social worker in D.C. and associate professor in the School of Social Work at Howard University. “We must move away from blaming the abuser, and examine our own attitudes toward the client and their addiction and get the client and the providers of care, families and communities to buy into solutions.

“We must understand the psychology of dependence,” she said. “Social work brings to the discussion of treatment our longstanding framework of understanding the client from a bio-psychosocial, fiscal, environmental and spiritual lens. … All clients have strengths and resilience, embracing and working with their strengths is key.”

In February, a bill to make naloxone, a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses, was passed unanimously in the D.C. Council. However, the city’s health department has yet to regulate whether pharmacies can begin selling the drug without a prescription.

Maryland and Virginia are among six states that have declared state of emergencies regarding opioid abuse and have made naloxone available without a prescription.

“The devastating impact that opioid addiction has had on communities throughout this country requires that we identify collaborative and comprehensive solutions to address this epidemic,” said Howard University Provost Anthony K. Wutoh. “Howard University is poised to convene leaders in various disciplines to take a step forward in finding solutions to this crisis.”

Event chairman Earl B. Ettienne, director of graduate programs and industry partnerships in the College of Pharmacy, said he believed the symposium would lay the groundwork for prescriptive solutions to combat the epidemic.

“Ultimately, our plan is to compile narratives and solutions from the symposium proceedings and submit them for action in the District and in the devastated communities in the nation at large,” Ettienne said. “Our expectation is that our students will serve as the nation’s best and brightest health care professionals and should be duly informed from the field.”

Lauren Poteat is a versatile writer with a strong background in communications and media experience with an additional background in education and development.

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