WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — There have been 166 opioid deaths around the district thru the first five months of the year, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. That’s six less compared to the same time a year ago.

Crowds gathered at Starburst Plaza Wednesday night to learn what’s available to help them or loved ones dealing with opioid addiction.

HIPS, or Honoring Individual Power, and Strength, organized this event as part of International Overdose Awareness Day, which included free Naloxone used to treat those struggling with Fentanyl

Unfortunately, help like this came too late for the family of Vernell Jones.

“I lost two of my boys, they’re both dead off of Fentanyl,” said Jones, whose sons died earlier in August. “And it kind of hurts me right now.”

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner says 96% of all the opioid deaths around the district during the first five months of the year involved Fentanyl. That marked a 1% increase from 2021.

That’s something HIPS Community Outreach Coordinator Johnny Bailey knows very well.

“I’m a former addict,” Bailey said. “I’ve lost a lot of people before getting clean, and after. It’s something that affects everybody’s life.”

HIPS says it’s lost roughly 40 clients to opioids over the last four months.

“A lot of them are homeless, don’t have families,” said Earline Budd, a counselor. “So I’m the one person charged with trying to make sure there’s closure. Services for the cremation of their bodies. It hurts me. It really does.”

Bailey has been clean for nine years. It hasn’t been easy, he said.

“When we’re talking about hard reduction, we’re talking about people need to be where they need to quit,” Bailey said. “And they need to stay alive and told to do it because there are a lot of times where I could have taken a turn and died during that period.”

But Bailey did not. Now he and others are helping others overcome their addiction.