DC Mayor Muriel Bowser Declares State Of Emergency In City Over Youth Violence, Opioids

Critics wanted a more robust response to the drug crisis.

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared public emergencies Monday (Nov. 13) in response to the rise in youth violence and opioid overdoses.

“Although each of these urgent situations are, to some extent, geographically concentrated, the nature of the two emergencies demands city-wide responses,” the mayor’s office said.

Opioid deaths are prevalent among Black men and residents in the city’s east and southeast wards. The emergency declaration, which takes immediate effect, improves internal data-sharing between city agencies, enabling teams to respond more effectively and track non-fatal overdose information. 

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid drug, is similar to morphine and heroin but is 50 to 100 times more potent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pharmaceutical fentanyl was approved for severe pain treatment, but illegally manufactured fentanyl has emerged on the streets. Overdosing is a national problem.

Opioid-related fatal overdoses between 2018 and 2022 in the District have more than doubled, from 213 to 461 per year, according to the mayor’s office. Fentanyl and its analogs were linked to 96 percent of opioid-related overdoses in 2022, and it’s on pace to increase to 98 percent of opioid-related deaths in 2023.

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Critics say Bowser didn’t go far enough, calling on her to ramp up the level of urgency by declaring a public health emergency, local news outlet DCist. There’s a difference between Bowser’s public emergency declaration and a public health emergency declaration. 

A public health emergency declaration would give the mayor greater executive authority to open emergency resources and contracts, and receive federal funding. Bowser’s approach focuses on internal agency coordination to combat the crisis.

In October, more than a dozen people, including doctors and public health professionals, testified before the D.C. Council to advocate for a public health emergency in response to the city’s worsening opioid crisis.

“The most important thing is these types of declarations need to come with funding and services that could be immediately stood up. If we say it’s a crisis, we need to respond as if it’s a crisis,” Emily Kaltenbach, senior director of state advocacy and criminal legal reform at the Drug Policy Alliance, told The Washington Post.

Bowser’s public emergency declaration on youth violence, which also takes immediate effect, includes procuring additional placements for youth at group homes and providing more services (for rehabilitation, substance abuse and trauma).

In the first nine months of 2023, there have been 458 arrests of juveniles for robbery, including carjacking, homicide, or assault with a dangerous weapon. It represents a 10 percent increase in all of 2022. 

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