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As opioid related deaths continue to rise across the nation, Washington, DC has also experienced an alarming increase in fatal opioid overdoses. However, our epidemic affects a different demographic with different usage trends than the national epidemic, which has focused on mostly on White (non-Hispanic) younger adults who are new users that begin their addiction by experimenting with prescription drugs and may progress to heroin usage. In Washington, DC, the majority of opioid deaths occur in the African-American community.


Washington, DC’s Epidemic at a Glance

Fatal Overdoses

  • There were 83 opioid related deaths in 2014, 114 in 2015, 231 in 2016, 279 in 2017, and 213 in 2018. *The decrease in opioid-related deaths in 2018, signals a downward trend in overdose deaths may be emerging.*
  • There was a 178% increase in fatal overdoses due to opioid use from 2014 to 2016, coinciding with the introduction of fentanyl (synthetic opioids) into the drug supply.
  • In 2018, 85% of cases involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogs.

Demographic of Those Affected

  • Approximately 80% of all overdoses due to opioid drug use happened among adults between the ages of 40-69, and such deaths were most prevalent among people ages 50-59.
  • Overall, 82% of all deaths were among African-Americans. This trend has remained consistent across years.
  • Fatal overdoses due to opioid drug use were more common among males (74% of deaths were males).
  • From 2014 to 2017, opioid-related fatal overdoses were most prevalent in Wards 7 and 8.
  • 89% of DC opioid users are over 40 years old and 58% are more than 50 years old.
  • 22% have been using heroin (primary used opioid in Washington, DC) for more than 40 years, 59% for more than 25 years, and 88% for more than 10 years.

Washington, DC’s Opioid Working Group

The Opioid Working Group is made up of multiple District and federal government agencies including the Department of Behavioral Health, DC Health, Department of Health Care Finance, Department of Forensic Sciences, Fire and Emergency Management Services Department, Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Metropolitan Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration and others.

This group meets monthly and is devoted to decreasing the morbidity and mortality from opioid use and addiction in the District of Columbia through a multi-disciplinary approach.

Washington, DC’s Opioid Strategic Plan Groups

Under the leadership of Mayor Bowser, a public-private group was convened to jointly draft and create a comprehensive strategic plan aimed at reducing opioid use, misuse and related deaths by 50 percent by 2020. The working group developed Washington, DC's Strategic Plan to Reduce Opioid Use, Misuse, and Related Deaths.

Read the Strategic Plan

The group consists of the following:

  • DC Government Agencies
  • Washington, DC Councilmembers
  • Hospital Leaders
  • Physicians
  • Substance Use Disorder Treatment Providers
  • Community-Based Service Providers
  • Harm Reduction Advocates
  • Federal Partners
  • Individuals in Recovery from Substance Use Disorder

The public-private group will continue to meet quarterly through 2020 to work together on each specific goal of the Plan to ensure its successful implementation.

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