The addiction epidemic has affected people across all demographics in the United States. It’s in rural areas and urban centers, it plagues people of all income levels, and it can be found in people of every background. The overdose death rate is climbing quickly, with over 63,000 overdose deaths occurring in 2016 alone. With many turning their attention to the nation’s capital for answers, statistics show that Washington, D.C. is among the hardest hit areas in the U.S.

Opioids are the leading cause of addiction and overdose in the country and they are incredibly common in the northeast. Recently, there has been a sharp incline in overdose trends in 2016 and researchers are pointing to synthetic opioids like fentanyl as a likely cause. Opioids threaten users with dependence, addiction, and overdose on a level, unlike many other illicit drugs. They change your brain chemistry and the way you process drugs, leading to long-lasting drug cravings and drug-seeking behavior.

Illicit opioids are difficult to manage and control, and they can easily become contaminated with other products that are dangerous when introduced to the body, other synthetic opioids, and infectious diseases. These factors make opioids among the most dangerous drugs in the U.S.

However, as the opioid epidemic grows, the use and abuse of other prescription and illicit drugs are also quietly growing as well. Methamphetamine use is also on the rise as transnational criminal organizations flood regions of the U.S. with the powerful stimulant. Some states are fighting deadly waves of both epidemics at once.

Washington, D.C. struggles to tackle its own epidemic as its leaders seek new ways to pull the country out of the depths of addiction. However, the disease is one that is treatable with the right interventions and a commitment to total recovery. Learn more about Washington’s fight against the addiction epidemic and how addiction treatment can lead to lifelong recovery.


Many of the states in Northeastern U.S, including Ohio and West Virginia, routinely make it into the top 10 states with the highest drug overdose death rates. As of 2016, West Virginia had the highest death rate, Maryland was 6th, and Virginia 32nd. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said in their 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment that the Northeast is a major thoroughfare for synthetic opioids. They write, “Law enforcement reporting indicates New Jersey serves as a transshipment point for heroin and fentanyl shipments originating from Mexico and destined for Pittsburgh consumer markets.” Washington, D.C. remains one of the seven most lucrative drug market areas for traffickers in the U.S.

As shipments are distributed through consumer markets to dealers and users, illicit drug supplies radiate out to consumers in the northeast, especially in major metropolitan areas. The DEA reports that the 2017 National Drug Threat survey revealed that heroin was a high priority threat in D.C. The DEA’s Washington Field Division reported that 47.2 percent of the surveyed respondents said heroin was the biggest threat they were facing.


In July 2017, the district’s mayor Muriel Bowser announced a plan to initiate a broad, coordinated response to the opioid epidemic. The plan involved the combined efforts of government, public health workers, health care, and law enforcement agencies. They also increased the distribution of naloxone kits, a medication that reverses an opioid overdose. They also expanded the availability of controversial medication-assisted treatment options, like suboxone maintenance, which involves long-term use of medicinal opioids to wean people off of dangerous drugs like heroin. They also approved a program to study the contents of syringes found at overdose sites to learn more about synthetic opioids that are contaminating heroin products.


Cocaine and crack continue to be a significant problem in Washington and the surrounding area. In fact, more arrestees tested positive for cocaine (at 14 percent) than heroin (at 7 percent) in 2013.  However, while other parts of the country have also seen an increase in meth use, Washington’s rates remain relatively low.


Though addiction is a chronic disease that is incredibly complex in the way it affects the human brain, it is treatable with a variety of therapy options. Addiction treatment is a process that addresses multiple needs, typically starting with medical treatment and then diving deeper to get to the root of your substance use disorder.  With different needs to be addressed at different priority levels, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has standardized addiction treatment at varying levels of care. The four major levels of care include the following:


Also called medical detoxification, is the highest level of care in addiction treatment. It involves 24/7 medically managed care and monitoring. This is ideal for people with a high level of medical needs, especially people who are at risk for potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms. However, medical detox can also treat people with medical complications like co-occurring diseases or psychological disorders. Detox typically lasts for about a week and ends after you have completed drug detox and any acute medical needs have been stabilized.


Involve the client in living at a facility and receiving medical monitoring for 24 hours each day. Residential services are also at this level of care. If you have longer-lasting withdrawal concerns, like the withdrawal symptoms that can occur when you detox from alcohol or benzodiazepines, inpatient services may be necessary. In this level, medical and clinical can also monitor other medical and psychological needs.


The highest level of outpatient care and involve more than nine hours of clinical services each week. At this level, you will gain some independence but still, have the support and services you need. You will also dive into discovering the roots of your addiction and you’ll start to develop relapse prevention strategies.


The lowest level of care at less than nine hours of clinical services each week. However, it’s an essential step in transitional out of treatment into an independent life of recovery. It’s important to continue learning relapse prevention strategies.


Addiction treatment can come in a variety of settings and approaches but the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has outlined several factors that make for effective treatment. These factors have become industry standards and if you are considering an addiction treatment service, you should look for these principles. Here are some of the most important principles of effective treatment:

  • Appropriate treatment varies from person to person. There is no such thing as the ultimate, quintessential treatment plan. Addiction has a variety of potential contributing factors and co-occurring conditions so what works for one person may not work for another. It’s important for your treatment plan to be matched to your individual needs.
  • Treatment should address multiple needs. Addiction often reaches beyond just a substance use disorder. In fact, it often affects your social life, career, physical and mental health, and causes legal problems. Effective treatment needs to address medical, psychological, social, vocational, and legal problems.
  • Treatment needs to last long enough. The appeal for clients to get through treatment and get on with their lives as fast as possible is clear but even someone who excels and breezes through treatment might have a hard time resisting relapse afterward. Studies show that addiction treatment needs to last a certain amount of time to be effective. According to NIDA, 90 days is the ideal amount of time to remain in treatment at whatever level of care is appropriate for you.
  • Behavioral therapies are recommended. Behavioral therapies are a type of evidence-based treatment modality that focuses on exploring the relationship between thoughts and behavior. It helps to build your self-efficacy, which is your internal belief that you can and should resist cravings and relapse and achieve your goals. This type of therapy is ideal for addiction treatment because it can help with a variety of cognitive, emotional, and psychological problems.
  • Treatment plans should be continually assessed and re-assessed. Your needs may change throughout the course of your treatment and your treatment plan should reflect those changes. Counselors should assess your treatment plan each week and make adjustments based on your progress and evolving needs.
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