DC The legislators will hold a public hearing to examine failures in the city's response to the increase in heroin deaths in African-American neighborhoods and to assess future strategies to combat the epidemic of opioids.
The hearing on January 28 will be held by the judicial and health system of the DC Council committees. It comes after the Washington Post reported last month that the district's public health agencies have repeatedly hesitated to confront one of the nation's most serious increases in fatal opiate overdose in recent years.
D.C. Board members Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) ̵
"The city is behind the curve in its response, and it's behind the curve of a couple of years," Allen said. "For me, an important part of this is: where is the urgency? What is a stronger word than urgent? Should it be the immediacy of this? This is an important part of what we want to focus on with the hearing. "
Gray said he was particularly concerned if the city, in light of its past inertia, was ready to spend the $ 21 million it expects to receive. year by the federal government to address the opioid epidemic.
"It is an embarrassment, and it is shameful, that we have not done more," said Gray. "We have to improve our game".
Wayne Turnage, deputy mayoral administrator for health and human services, said that administration officials "welcome the scrutiny" and collaborate with the Council investigation. He recognized problems in the city's opiate efforts – particularly in the management of federal dollars – but said the District did its best to address a rapidly changing crisis and has a plan for future action.
At the end of last month, after The Post published its series, the mayor published a 22-page plan that included reducing opioid overdose deaths by half by 2020. However, many of the key initiatives described in the document echo the previous plans created by DC officials. Some are things that the city is already doing or is supposed to have done.
"Too many of our neighbors in Washington, DC lose their lives, or family and friends for substance use disorder," Bowser said in a cover letter to the plan. "Our inter-agency, public health approach has made progress in saving lives and reducing fatal overdoses, but we still have a lot of work to do."
Between 2014 and 2017, the district overdose rate of death increased by 209.9% – an increase higher than in any state and the ninth highest among all counties in the United States, according to data of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The agency does not track deaths by city.)
In 2017, the city saw 279 fatal opioid overdoses, according to the Chief Medical Officer of the D.C. – a figure higher than the number of murders of that year. The deaths were caused by the heroin cut off with the lethal fetal-helium opioid synthetic and were concentrated among older African-American users in the southeast and north-east of Washington.
African-Americans are dying from overdoses of drugs at more than seven times the district's white rate, showing the most recent data from the CDC.
Despite the scale of death – which represents the worst public health crisis in the city since the AIDS epidemic – DC officials have not deployed rescue strategies widely adopted by other cities and states, and misspent million of federal grant dollars, The Post found.
Efforts to publicly distribute naloxone – an antidote for overdoses that can prevent death – by the DC Department of Health has been paralyzed by municipal officials' waste by issuing appropriate amounts of drugs, leaving front-line treatment providers in the face of shortcomings. In 2017, Baltimore distributed more than four times more naloxone per capita in the District, and Philadelphia distributed more than three times as much
Prevention and treatment of overdose programs that the District would have to implement in the last two years using $ 4 million of federal subsidies was plagued by problems. The city failed to spend a third of its federal dollars during the first year of the grant, requiring a special request to federal officials for the renewal of funds.
The medical service provider who received much of the district grant money said that not a single patient was referred for treatment of addiction through city programs. Initiatives that city officials said to the federal government that they would launch – including a sensitization program for overdose patients in the district public hospital – did not materialize.
Bowser removed Tanya Royster, director of the Department of Behavioral Health, in late November, just before The Post published her stories. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the Department of Health, is overseeing both agencies on a provisional basis. Allen and Gray said they expected to call her to testify.
The hearing comes when DC parliamentarians are pushing on other fronts to intensify the fight against opioid deaths.
This week, eight of the 13 board members presented a bill that would require the cops to transport the naloxone, as they do in thousands of other departments across the country.
Bowser and police officials are opposed to this policy, citing costs and training requests and arguing that it is not necessary because fire and emergency medical service officials already carry the antidote.