Narcan is a prescription medication that is used to treat an opioid overdose. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)
Narcan is a prescription medication that is used to treat an opioid overdose. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)

The opioid crisis is ongoing, and D.C. has seen a rise in fatalities over the past few years. The Ward 7 & 8 D.C. Prevention Center along with the UDC Community College Division of Workforce Development and Lifelong Learning hosted a four-part virtual workshop last week over Zoom in which health care professionals and substance abuse specialists gathered to discuss ways to spread awareness and implement real change in the District to resolve the opioid crisis.

The average number of monthly fatal overdoses in 2019 was 23 but in 2020 it rose to 34. Now, in 2021 the average is 33. The rise in fatal opioid overdoses is in part due to the pandemic, according to Dr. Chikarlo Leak, policy and operations director within the D.C. Office of Racial Equity. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid has been making its way through drugs and has become responsible for many opioid overdoses. This opioid is similar to morphine, according to National Institute on Drug Abuse experts who said fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent.

“One of the key things I like to remember and point out is that these are individuals and loved ones who did not wake up that day. So, their families, their communities, their friends are missing them. So, it’s more than just a number. These are people with individual lives and so we really do as a District have to work hard to reverse this trend,” said Leak.

The ones who are dying the most from these opioid overdoses are Black and male. The most overdoses have taken place with individuals between the ages of 50 and 69. In correlation to this trend, most of these overdoses are taking place in Wards 5, 7 and 8.

The city government has tried to resolve the issue of opioid deaths but has fallen short given the rise in deaths over the past few years. Leak says that it has to be more of a collaborative effort beyond just the government and that it “has to be a district-wide kind of approach to reversing this epidemic.

The conversation surrounding addiction widens once examining how racial and socioeconomic factors intersect on this issue. Saleema Snow, a law professor at UDC says this issue stems back decades to former administrations that spearheaded ‘war on drugs’ policies that disproportionately affected Black people. She further states in order to make change, community-based approaches should be implemented with “the community holding people accountable.”

Part of understanding how to treat addiction is understanding how pain is understood and approached when trying to heal it. Pain, Dr. Alka Gupta, Bluerock Primary Care, says is a large problem “because of how multifactorial it is.” As a result of taking a singular approach to solving the problem of pain, alternative methods are overlooked at times that can prevent using such drastic measures, she further explains.

“The opioid crisis stems partially from how we approach treatment of pain sometimes within medicine in an effort to help somebody feel better. Sometimes we look at the short-term picture rather than the long-term picture,” said Dr. Alka Gupta, Bluerock Primary Care.

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