"Recovery high school" necessary

On the heels of a federal report last week that showed Delaware with the fastest rising rate of fentanyl-related overdose deaths in the country, Delaware government leaders and advocates gathered at the Department of Justice on Wednesday to highlight nine new recommendations in the fight against opioid addiction.

Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall Long, Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Kara Odom Walker, Sen. Stephanie Hansen (D-Middletown),  Rep. David Bentz (D-Christiana), Division of Public Health Director Dr. Karyl Rattay, State Police Chief Council head and Camden Police Chief William Bryson and atTAcK Addiction founders Don and Jeanne Keister joined Attorney General Matt Denn. The press conference coincided with the release of a treatment needs assessment commissioned by the DOJ and independently written by Hornby Zeller Associates.

The assessment found that Delaware is treating just over half of the individuals in need of opioid abuse treatment, with 11,000 persons in need of treatment and only 6,000 receiving it.

Denn outlined the third annual plan from the Department of Justice on steps that should be taken to deal with an “opioid epidemic that is ruining lives, shattering families, and wreaking havoc on our criminal justice system.”  

He also noted that the DOJ plan is “quite specific in what should be done, who should do it, and on what time frame. Most of those time frames are quite aggressive. Because people are dying, and there needs to be a focus and urgency about our work."

Based on a calculation in the treatment assessment report that the state needs more treatment facilities, Denn on Wednesday said he believes that the state should use economic development financing to help start them.

“The state has spent economic development funds on all sorts of initiatives over the past two decades, including the expansion and maintenance of other health care facilities,” he said. “Now it is time to use economic development funds to create jobs in an area where Delaware desperately needs them: substance abuse treatment.”

The Department of Justice plan includes nine recommendations:

Allocate $4 million in one-time funds to expand the availability of quality treatment facilities that allow for extended residential and outpatient treatment. Continue to improve monitoring and regulation of existing medication-assisted treatment programs.  Develop of a "Recovery High School" for Delaware.  Institutionalize naloxone funding for first responders.  Address co-prescriptions of benzodiazepines and opioids. Perform evaluation of involuntary treatment.  Fund support services to ensure coordination between actors in the substance abuse treatment community.  Expand use of naltrexone for persons in the corrections system.  Expand insurance coverage For alternative pain treatments. 

The new plan follows previous plans released in 2015 and 2016, laying out steps for addressing what he has referred to as “the public health crisis of our generation.” Progress cited at the event includes stricter controls on the prescription of opioids, laws passed to help break down insurance and Medicaid barriers to getting people treatment and a dramatic increase, thanks to the hard work of advocate and the public safety community, in the number of police and other first responders who now carry naloxone.

“An average of 20 Delawareans die of an overdose each month,” said Lt. Governor Hall-Long. “Each of those deaths represents the loss of a person with hopes, dreams and families who loved them. As policymakers and leaders, we must fix our broken system and save lives. This report highlights recommendations that will work jointly with the efforts of the behavioral health consortium in setting short-term and long-term strategies to combat the greatest public health epidemic of our generation.”