D.C. Legislators will hold a public hearing to investigate failures in the city's response to rising heroin deaths in African American neighborhoods and to assess future strategies to combat the opioid epidemic.
January 28 is heard by the DC Council's judiciary and health committees. It comes after the Washington Post reported last month that the district's public health institute has repeatedly failed to confront one of the country's most serious increases in lethal opioid overdose in recent years.
D.C. Council members Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) ̵
"The city is behind the curve in its response and it lies behind the curve of a couple of years, Allen said." For me, much of this is: Where is the rush? What is a stronger word than urgent? Where is the immediacy of this? This is a large part of what we want to focus on in connection with the hearing. "
Gray said he was particularly concerned about whether, in view of his previous inactivity, the city was prepared to spend $ 21 million expected to receive this year from the federal government to address the opioid epidemic.  "It's a shame, and it's shameful we haven't done more," Gray said. "We must step up our game."
Wayne Turnage, Deputy Mayor of Health and Humanity, said administrative officials "welcome reviewing "and cooperating with the Council's investigation. He recognized problems in the city's opioid work – especially the management of the federal dollar – but said the district had done its best to face a rapidly growing crisis and has a plan for future action.
Last Last the month after Posten published its series, the Mayor issued a 22-page plan that required halving opioid doses in half by 2020. But many important ini initiatives described in the document's earlier plans were created by DC officials. Some are things that the city already does or should have done.
"For many of our neighbors in Washington, DC lose their lives, or family members and friends for substance use," Bowser said in a cover letter to the plan. "Our interagency, public health has made progress in saving lives and reducing mortal overdoses, but we have a lot of work to do."
Between 2014 and 2017, the district's increase in fatalities increased by 209.9 percent – an increase that is higher than for all states and ninth highest among all US counties, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. (The agency does not track deaths by city.)
In 2017, the city saw 279 lethal opioid overdoses, according to the dying medical investigator of D.C. – a figure higher than the number of deaths that year. The death was driven by heroin cutting with the lethal synthetic opioid fentanyl and concentrated among elderly, African-American users in southeastern and northeastern Washington.
African American users die from drug overdoses at more than seven times the frequency of district white residents, the latest CDC data show.
Despite the death scale – representing the city's worst public health crisis since the height of the AIDS epidemic – equivalent officials failed to use rescue strategies commonly adopted by other cities and states, and suspected millions of federal grants dollars, the record was found.
An attempt to publicly distribute naloxone – an overdosed antidote that can prevent death – by the DC Department of Health was paralyzed by the City Department's refusal to issue sufficient amounts of medication, leaving frontline treatment providers at fault. In 2017, Baltimore shared more than four times as much naloxone per capita as the district, and Philadelphia was distributed more than three times as much.
Overdose prevention and treatment programs that the district would undertake over the past two years with $ 4 million of federal grant money were also 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 for federal officials to roll over the funds.
The medical provider who received much of the district's grant money did not say a single patient was referred to abuse by city programs. Initiatives that city officials told the federal government that they would launch – including a district drug screening program in district public hospitals – never experienced.
Bowser removed Tanya Royster, head of the Department of Behavioral Health at the end of November, just before Posten published his stories. LaQuandra Nesbitt, Head of the Health Department, oversees both agencies on an interim basis. Allen and Gray said they expect to call her to testify.
Hearing comes as equal legislators are also pushing on other fronts to intensify the fight against opioid deaths.
This week, eight of the 13 members of the Council presented a bill It would require police officers to carry naloxone, as they do in thousands of other departments across the country.
Bowser and police officials oppose such a policy and cite the costs and training requirements and argue that it is not necessary because fire and emergency medical officials already have antidotes.