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Mayor Bowser Issues Public Emergency to Give District New Tools for Responding to Opioid Crisis and Increase in Youth Violence

Monday, November 13, 2023

(Washington, DC) – Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a public emergency that will allow DC Government to respond more efficiently and urgently to two separate issues that, since the pandemic, have not only persisted, but worsened: the deadly opioid epidemic and youth violence. Although each of these urgent situations are, to some extent, geographically concentrated, the nature of the two emergencies demands city-wide responses. 

Public Emergency on the Opioid Crisis
Opioids have inflicted profound harm on communities within Washington, DC and across the nation, causing staggering mortality rates, strain on the healthcare system, transmission of infectious diseases through needle sharing, adverse effects on families and communities, economic burdens, and treatment barriers. Between 2018 and 2022, opioid-related fatal overdoses in the District have more than doubled, from 213 to 461 lives lost per year.

Fentanyl and its analogs, potent synthetic opioids, were linked to 96% of the opioid-related fatal overdoses in the District in 2022. In 2023 to date, there has been an increasing percentage of these substances, where fentanyl and its analogs are now linked to 98% of overdose deaths. People who use other drugs are also at risk of fentanyl deaths, as fentanyl pervades the supply of illegal drugs. Many people who use drugs have managed their addictions for years, yet they too can—and often do—overdose and die when their drugs are laced with even small amounts of fentanyl and its analogs due to the potency of these opioids. Opioid deaths in the District fall most heavily among Black men and residents of Wards 5, 7, and 8, underscoring that this public health crisis raises health equity and systemic concerns.

Through this Mayor’s Order, a public emergency regarding the opioid crisis is declared in the District, effective immediately. This will allow the District to immediately modify the current data sharing agreement between the Department of Behavioral Health, DC Health, and the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department to require District agencies to input suspected non-fatal overdoses into a common data tracking system. Enhanced and expedited data sharing, consistent with the safeguards in the existing data sharing agreement, can provide a complete picture of opioid-related fatal and suspected non-fatal overdoses as they occur, allowing for the deployment of outreach teams to overdose hotspots and impacted areas and for the provision of harm reduction services and supports.

Public Emergency on Juvenile Crime 
The District is experiencing an increase in violent crime, particularly among youth. 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 – 10% more than the total number of such arrests in all of 2022. A total of 151 juveniles have been arrested for carjackings, which represents one-third of all carjacking arrests. The number of District youth victimized by violent crime has also increased significantly. Between January and October 2023, 97 juveniles suffered gunshot wounds, including 15 homicides – a 9% increase from the same period in 2022. In just the last five weeks, five youth under the D.C. Superior Court of the District of Columbia’s Family Court Social Services Division (CSSD) electronic monitoring have been killed. This violence is having a devastating impact on victims, their families, communities, and the District as a whole.

Throughout 2023, the District has taken decisive steps to address this rise in violent crime among youth, including:

  • The Safer Stronger Amendment Act of 2023 (Bill 25-291) was introduced on May 16, 2023, and focuses on addressing gaps in the District’s public safety and justice ecosystem, including violent crime among youth. 
  • On July 20, 2023, the Prioritizing Public Safety Emergency Amendment Act of 2023 (Act 25-175) was signed into law. This emergency legislation established a rebuttable presumption that pre-hearing detention is necessary where the D.C. Superior Court determines there is a substantial probability that a youth committed certain violent crimes. That provision aims to reduce juvenile repeat offenses and ensure the District can connect youth who have committed violent crimes with the rehabilitative supports proven to reduce recidivism.

Through this Mayor’s Order, a public emergency regarding youth violence is declared in the District, effective immediately, and will allow the District to take the following emergency measures regarding capacity across the continuum of placements for youth in the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services’ custody. Those measures include:

  • Procuring additional placements for youth at shelter homes, group homes, supervised independent living facilities, secure facilities, residential treatment centers, psychiatric residential treatment centers, and foster homes;
  • Engaging in cooperative agreements for programs and placements for detained and committed youth, including rehabilitative, therapeutic, substance-abuse, and trauma-informed programs;
  • Incentivizing private providers to open additional shelter homes, group homes, and shelter beds for girls; and
  • Engaging the Department of General Services to undertake expedited renovations at the Youth Services Center for a new 10-bed unit.

To support both public emergency responses, the Mayor’s Order also authorizes expeditated procurement, the disbursement of funds, and the activation, implementation, and coordination of mutual aid agreements between the District and federal, state, or local jurisdictions, as appropriate.

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