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Across the District, fentanyl-involved overdoses remain prevalent in predominantly Black communities. Despite lowering rates of overdose, newly released data shows a heightened rate of Black, especially senior residents being disproportionately affected by the harrowing rise of fentanyl addiction.  

“Fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered.  Fentanyl is everywhere.  From large metropolitan areas to rural America, no community is safe from this poison,” said Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration Anne Milgram.  “We must take every opportunity to spread the word to prevent fentanyl-related overdose deaths and poisonings from claiming scores of American lives every day.”

The fatal crisis once painted as an issue plaguing young adults and youth across white America has resurfaced as Black Americans seemingly become the face of a second national wave.  Over the past five years, fentanyl-related overdoses have accounted for 96% of total overdoses in D.C. between the years of 2017 to 2022.  

According to a report produced by the D.C. Office of The Chief Medical Examiner, roughly 72% of all opioid overdose fatalities occurred among older adults within the age bracket of 40-69 years old, with a heightened prevalence among residents 50-59 years old.  And for many, it is no drug of choice, but rather a sinister stroke of bad luck, as fentanyl-laced drugs are covertly displacing other opioid narcotics including heroin, oxycodone and cocaine for example, killing people without knowledge of what they have ingested.

“While the overdose crisis is driven by opioids, it’s also increasingly a crisis involving poly-substance use.  That is particularly opioids in combinations with other drugs, particularly stimulants,” said Magdalena Cerda, professor in the division of epidemiology of the department of population health at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, while speaking on a virtual panel with the Center for Health Journalism.  

Out of an examined 1,705 deaths by opioid overdoses within the duration of this data sample, 84% of these incidents involved Black people. The greatest number of drug overdoses by way of opioid use occurred in Wards 5, 7, and 8, with East of the River communities maintaining the greatest number of fatalities in comparison to the rest of the city.

Next Steps to Address This Crisis

The unprecedented era of COVID-19 is yet another major factor that has exacerbated the rise in fentanyl-involved overdoses.  The jolt of the health pandemic interrupted several needed prevention treatment and recovery services, while crushing the stability of jobs, schooling, and mental health support services, especially needed by those residents grappling in the throes of addiction.   

But Cerda and various health physicians maintain a positive outlook when finding a silver lining in the thick of the crisis.  Cerda highlights two major responses that she believes will bring a transformative stage to this epidemic, largely emphasizing harm reduction and access to evidence-based treatment.

“When we talk about harm reduction, we are talking about meeting people where they are in their lives, treating them with dignity and giving them the tools that they need.  One of the major tools in harm reduction is naloxone,” Cerda said.  “Essentially, only 15 percent of counties in the United States have community-based naloxone distribution programs.  [Likewise,] less than 50 percent of counties have treatment centers that provide naloxone, so essentially, broad swaths of the [U.S.] lack access to some of the leading sources of naloxone for community-based use.”

Increasing access to evidence-based treatment medications is pinned as another useful method for treating withdrawal symptoms.  But despite this, use of opioid treatment typically ranks lower within Black communities in comparison to their White counterparts. 

Research shows White Americans are found more likely to receive training in naloxone use, reach access to naloxone through community prescriptions or community programs, and use the opioid reversal medication in comparison to their Black counterparts.

Drug reform experts highly suggest D.C. pour funding into 24/7 drug centers to provide a safe space for residents to pick up naloxone, testing strips, and even use their drugs within a safe environment to gradually rectify the issue.

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1 Comment

  1. Sad to say but I have problems out of this world ɓut self medicating is not the answer. I hate to sound blunt and callous but, It’s not not that deep really. Just say no! Don’t start and there’s nothing to stop! Please people get a grip on yourselves! It is truly all in your mind! Trust me I know!!!!

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