At the Regional Opioid and Substance Abuse Summit on May 9, policymakers and public health and safety professionals from across the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia made connections, shared information, and pledged to work more closely together to respond to the growing opioid and substance abuse epidemic.
The COG-organized event held in Linthicum Heights, Maryland drew about 500 people and featured opening remarks by the region's top elected officials—Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, and District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser. In October 2016, Hogan, McAuliffe, and Bowser signed a compact to work together to combat opioid addiction.
“Our goal today is to shine a spotlight on the heroin and opioid crisis in our region and to bring a heightened level of awareness to this rapidly escalating threat, which is tearing apart families, devastating communities, and killing more and more people every day,” said Hogan. “Ultimately, this is about saving lives – that is the bottom line – and it will take a collaborative, holistic approach to achieve that. Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia will continue to be united as we work together to turn the tide in this deadly fight.”
The full-day summit, which was co-sponsored by CareFirst, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Kaiser Permanente, and the Regional Primary Care Coalition, covered many important aspects of understanding and combatting opioid and substance abuse. A variety of sessions led by subject matter experts included topics such as creating effective prevention and treatment programs, developing a holistic public safety response, and confronting stigma related to drug addiction.
“Opioid addiction must be treated like the health issue that it is. Shifting the way we frame the conversation can destigmatize those who seek treatment and gives us – the entire region – a greater chance of success,” said Bowser. “In Washington, DC, through improved interagency collaboration and increased communication, we have developed one of the most efficient and effective strategies to combat this issue. Working together as a region, we will be able to multiply our successes and learn from one another’s challenges.”
“There are no state lines. There are no boundaries at all when it comes to this very difficult problem that we’re facing,” said McAuliffe. He stressed the importance of treating the issue as a public health crisis and noted recent efforts in Virginia to help combat substance abuse, such as new regulations to limit doctors from prescribing too much opioid-based medication as well as increased monitoring to prevent patients from ‘doctor-shopping’ to obtain multiple prescriptions.
As part of the summit's featured presentation, attendees viewed a portion of "Heroin: Hardest Hit," a documentary produced by the Virginia Attorney General's Office. The clip featured an interview with Carolyn Weems, a mother who lost her daughter, Caitlyn, to a heroin overdose. Weems also addressed attendees in person.
Carolyn Weems speaks about her late daughter, Caitlyn.
In 2015, DEA reported more than 52,400 deaths from drug overdoses nationwide—the majority from the use of opioids. 198 of these opioid-related deaths occurred in the District, 1,400 in Maryland, and 1,000 in Virginia.
Following the summit, COG will be working with state and District officials to explore next steps for regional coordination, which could include developing a regional public education campaign, using technology to exchange information across borders (such as prescription drug monitoring), and training amongst first responders and health professionals.
Program, speaker bios, and presentations
McAuliffe, Hogan, Bowser call for sharing data on opioid prescribers (Washington Post)
D.C., Md., Va. Leaders Meet in Effort to Reduce Fatal Drug Overdoses (NBC Washington)