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D.C. announces plan to cut opioid-related deaths by half

From the Washington Post.

In long-awaited plan, D.C. aims to reduce opioid deaths by half by late 2020

by Jenna Portnoy

The District on Monday announced a plan aimed at cutting opioid-related deaths by half over the next 21 months, using a long list of treatment, tracking and education initiatives.

Start-up costs of $24 million will mostly be funded by a federal grant to be administered by the District’s Department of Behavioral Health.

A Washington Post investigation this month found that fatal overdoses among African American heroin users have soared in the nation’s capital in recent years, as well as in other U.S. cities, even as discussions of the opioid epidemic often focus on whites in rural and suburban areas.

The Post reported that government agencies in the District — where black residents now die of overdoses at a higher rate than whites in West Virginia, Ohio or New Hampshire — had been slow to respond to the crisis and in many cases did not implement promised treatment and prevention programs even after they were approved and funded.

The city’s 22-page report is titled “LIVE. LONG. DC.: Washington, DC’s Strategic Plan to Reduce Opioid Use, Misuse, and Related Deaths.” It outlines in broad strokes the creation or expansion of dozens of initiatives to reduce opioid use, treat victims and educate city residents about the dangers of addiction.

“We are devoted to tailoring our response in a manner that is specific to Washington, DC, based on our history, demographics, and trends in usage so that we can stem this scourge,” Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said in the report.

Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) called the plan’s timeline ambitious but necessary, even as he acknowledged that cutting deaths in half by October 2020 may seem unrealistic.

“I’d argue the urgency of this crisis — and the sheer number of lives lost — warrants setting an ambitious and necessary call to action,” he said in a text message.

The number of opioid-related deaths in the city has more than tripled in recent years, from 83 in 2014 to 279 in 2017. More than 70 percent of the deaths involved the synthetic opioid fentanyl or its analogues, which dealers in recent years increasingly have mixed with heroin to make the drug more powerful and maximize their profits — making every fix a life-or-death gamble.

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