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Bowser Administration Recognizes International Overdose Awareness Day by Promoting Access to Harm Reduction Tools and Encouraging Residents to Seek Treatment

Thursday, August 31, 2023

(Washington, DC) – Today, the Bowser Administration, led by the DC Department of Behavioral Health (DBH), is recognizing international Overdose Awareness Day by promoting free life-saving resources and continuing to spread awareness about a public education campaign to encourage treatment and sustained recovery for those suffering from opioid addiction. “This Time, It’s Different” is an initiative of LIVE.LONG.DC. 2.0, the District’s strategic plan to reduce opioid use and misuse and opioid-related deaths. DBH is also promoting easy access to harm reduction tools to prevent opioid-related overdose deaths and is participating in events across the District to raise awareness of available treatment services and supports. 
“We want all District residents and their loved ones to know that we have resources available to help prevent or overcome opioid addiction and misuse—including free deliveries of Naloxone or free transportation to and from substance abuse treatment,” said Mayor Bowser. “Let’s work together as a community to spread awareness, prevent overdose deaths, and save lives.”
DBH’s public education campaign “This Time, It’s Different” encourages residents who have tried to stop using opioids to try again. Research shows that people drop out of treatment without completion at a high rate and are unable to maintain recovery. The campaign highlights DBH’s comprehensive treatment services and supports to sustain long-term recovery, including: 

  • Access to medication assisted treatment for opioid use disorder in six community hospitals, eight community clinics, three DBH-certified facilities, and the DC Jail.  
  • Treatment enrollment in the public behavioral health system seven days a week 
  • 29 DBH certified providers located in all eight wards  
  • Withdrawal management in a safe, therapeutic environment to manage cravings 
  • Residential treatment as needed 
  • 988 support for people experiencing a substance use disorder crisis  
  • Free transportation to and from treatment. 
  • Housing and job supports 
  • Peer counselors who have been there and provide problem solving and emotional supports  
  • Enhanced coordination of behavioral health care with physical care as people facing addiction often have complex medical needs and recovery requires integrated treatment. 

Thousands of opioid overdoses have been reversed using naloxone and DBH is doubling down on harm reduction strategies proven to prevent overdose deaths with widely available Naloxone and increased access to fentanyl test strips. Naloxone kits are distributed by DBH and community partners at 130 locations across in the District of Columbia, and by mail or personal delivery.  
Free naloxone is available in more than 120 community-based locations including 31 pharmacies in all eight wards – no prescription or ID required. DBH and its partners have distributed more than 100,000 naloxone kits and the number goes up every year.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reports the presence of fentanyl in 99% of all overdose deaths, and the number of overdose death has continued to rise in recent years driven by fentanyl. DBH also distributes free fentanyl test strips, which can detect the presence of this deadly synthetic in other drugs. DBH and its partners have expanded distribution of free fentanyl test strips with 56,000 strips distributed over the past year. 

Anyone can text “LiveLongDC” to 888-811 for pick-up locations for naloxone and fentanyl test strips, or to receive by mail or personal delivery. To access treatment seven days a week, residents can text “Ready” to 888-811 and get a list of treatment sites that are open at that moment.

DBH is also making available test trips that can detect the presence of Xylazine (also called “tranq” or “tranq dope”), a sedative or tranquilizer used with opioids like synthetic fentanyl to enhance the effects of drugs. The DC Chief Medical Examiner has identified Xylazine in 11 overdose deaths through May of this year while fentanyl remains the killer in nearly all opioid deaths. DBH has issued an informational guide to alert the public to this emerging mixed drug misuse and recommend naloxone for any suspected drug overdose.

DBH, DC Health, and the DC Fire & Emergency Medical Services Department (Fire and EMS) also announced in April the rollout of a new pilot project centered around providing residents access to harm reduction vending machines intended to provide lifesaving tools like naloxone and fentanyl strips, along with hygiene and wellness products. 

Similar machines have become prevalent in cities nationwide because they provide easy access to critical services that benefit the most vulnerable populations. In October of 2021, DC Health awarded grants to two community partners, Family and Medical Counseling Services (FMCS) and HIPS, to pilot the implementation of harm reduction vending machines in DC. All the vending machines have been placed in locations that ensure they can be accessed safely at any time of day. 

In cooperation with Fire and EMS, four of the vending machines have been placed outside various firehouses in the District. An additional machine has been placed at the Whitman Walker Health Center. All machines have been strategically placed in areas with higher than average rates of drug overdose and unhoused populations. The machines can be found at:

  • Engine #7: 1101 Half Street SW
  • Engine #2: 500 F Street NW
  • Engine #33: 101 Atlantic Street SE
  • Engine #27: 4260 Minnesota Avenue NE
  • Whitman Walker Health- Max Robinson Center: 1201 Sycamore Dr. SE 
  • Bread for the City: 1525 7th Street NW
  • HIPS: 906 H Street NE

This pilot will evaluate the utilization patterns and positive impact these products have on the wellbeing of vulnerable communities in the area. 
“Opioid overdose death is preventable,” said DBH Director Barbara J. Bazron, Ph.D. “Naloxone and other lifesaving resources are proven to save lives. Our goal is to help people live addiction free lives. We make treatment easy to get and offer supports to maintain recovery.” 

DBH and community partners kicked off a week of local events to commemorate International Overdose Awareness Day, provide harm reduction resources, and educate District residents on how to do their part to prevent overdose deaths. Today’s events include outreach in communities throughout the District, storytelling, panel discussions, and naloxone training and distribution. For a full list of International Overdose Awareness Day events happening in the District, visit   

To learn more, call the 24-hour Access Helpline at 1-888-793-4357. Read the full LIVE.LONG.DC plan HERE.

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