Ten people in two neighborhoods in Northeast Washington have now died from a lethal batch of fentanyl, police said Tuesday, the second mass-casualty incident involving the deadly opioid in the District this year.
In January, nine people died after taking a similar concoction in a neighborhood near Nationals Park. Authorities arrested two people in that case and said they do not believe the most recent incidents are connected to the earlier overdoses.
This week teams of health workers fanned across Trinidad and Ivy City to help people struggling with addiction, while police teamed up with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to identify suppliers.
“We know we have a bad batch of drugs that are here in our community,” Christopher Geldart, the deputy mayor for public safety and justice, said at a news conference on Tuesday. He said officials need to find the source of the drugs “and stem that flow.”
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The names of the people who died have not yet been made public, pending notification of relatives. Officials said they ranged in age from mid-30s to about 60, and came from diverse backgrounds. Some were homeless.
Police said the deaths occurred over three days in two neighborhoods, making it initially difficult to conclude the victims had likely used drugs from the same or similar batch. Some people overdosed inside residences. Police said they are interviewing survivors and reviewing surveillance video as part of their investigation.
Opioid deaths in the District nearly doubled from 2018 to 2021, according to statistics from the city. The D.C. medical examiner has identified fentanyl in more than 90 percent of the overdose deaths in 2020 and through March 2021. Statistics for a comparative period this year were not yet available.
At Tuesday’s news conference, held at a fire station in Trinidad, police and health officials urged residents to look out for one another. Officials also promoted the use of naloxone, a nasal spray that can quickly revive a person who is overdosing.
All first responders in the District carry the antidote. Police said officers have administered about 1,900 doses since March of 2019. The city has also distributed 58,800 naloxone kits, which are available at locations throughout the District and by texting “livelongDC” to 888-811. Officials also have test strips available so people can check their drugs for the presence of fentanyl.
D.C. police say that at least one person a day in the District dies of an opioid-related overdose, but rarely are they confronted with two events with so many deaths so close together.
After the nine people died in January along the Southwest waterfront, police and the DEA arrested two people whom they charged with federal drug distribution and conspiracy counts, alleging they knew they had a deadly batch of drugs and sold them anyway at Half and O streets.
At the time, D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III called fentanyl a “poison that is being peddled in our community.” The victims in the January cases ranged in age from 43 to 74, and five were women.
On Tuesday, Assistant D.C. Police Chief Morgan C. Kane said the same detectives and agents who investigated the overdose deaths in January near Nationals Park have been assigned to the Ivy City and Trinidad cases.
She described the area around Meigs Place and West Virginia Avenue in Northeast Washington as “ground zero.” Trinidad and Ivy City are in a wedge-shaped area along and near New York Avenue and Gallaudet University. Kane reminded residents that officers are not interested in arresting addicts, and she noted laws designed to protect them from being detained when they call seeking help.
“We are encouraging people to report overdoses so people can get medical treatment,” Kane said. “Our focus isn’t on the person overdosing. Our focus is on the supplier in the community. We will go after those people who are preying on the vulnerable population who have addictions.”