For Immediate Release:
September 19, 2017
Matthew Nocella, 202.724.8105 -

Grosso proposes bills to deal with opioid crisis, improve public health as Council returns from summer recess

Washington, D.C. – Today Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) introduced two bills to address the opioid crisis in the District of Columbia.

“For decades we have attempted to use criminal penalties to solve drug addiction and its associated consequences,” Grosso said.  “This ‘War on Drugs’ has failed and in recent years, D.C. has adopted a public health and evidence-based approach to reduce harm and help people find appropriate treatment.  My proposals continue that approach.”

Last year, D.C. reported 216 opioid-related deaths—nearly triple the number reported in 2014. Grosso’s proposals would remove penalties for possession of certain drug paraphernalia and promote access to the medical marijuana program, both of which have been shown to reduce overdoses.

The Safe Access for Public Health Amendment Act of 2017, allows for access to new technology that enables drug users to test their own drugs to avoid overdosing and supports harm reduction efforts for injection drug use by improving access to clean syringes to reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.

The bill achieves this greater access by removing criminal penalties for possession for personal use of syringes and drug testing kits, and expanding the areas in which D.C.’s successful needle exchange program can operate.

“There is no scientific basis for criminalizing paraphernalia possession,” Grosso said. “It only increases the likelihood of harm to those who are struggling with addiction and continues the failed policies of the War on Drugs that has had a disproportionate impact on our African-American communities.”

Councilmember Vincent Gray joined Grosso in co-introducing this bill. Grosso joined Gray in co-introducing two other opioid focused bills: Opioid Abuse Treatment Act of 2017 and the Opioid Overdose Prevention Act of 2017.

The Medical Marijuana Improvement Amendment Act of 2017 reduces two major barriers to the city’s medical marijuana program: the requirement for a doctor referral and long wait times to get a registration card.

Under the bill, patients would be granted provisional registration and same-day access to medical marijuana like any other medicine. Patients without a primary care physician, or with one who does not wish to recommend medical marijuana, would be able to self-certify.

“Medical marijuana has been shown to be a viable alternative to the prescription of opioid painkillers, which can set people down the path to addiction,” Grosso said. “While we have made significant improvements to our medical marijuana program here in D.C., there is more we can do to improve access for patients and reduce opioid reliance and overdose.”

A study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that medical marijuana programs reduce opioid overdose death rates by as much as 25 percent.  Americans for Safe Access also reported lower prescription rates of painkillers in states with medical marijuana programs.

Grosso believes D.C. can go even further to combat the opioid crisis.  In a letter sent to Department of Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt today, the councilmember asked her to examine how D.C. might set up supervised injection sites where injection drug users could be monitored to prevent overdose and be connected to treatment.  He also believes DOH should find a way to allow Narcan, the opioid overdose prevention medication, to be obtained over-the-counter at any pharmacy in the District of Columbia.

“I hope that Dr. Nesbitt and her team will find a way forward,” Grosso said.