14 member panel discusses the scope of a statewide and nationwide epidemic

Prevention, education, and a Narcan shot in the hands of anyone who may need one are just some of the avenues explored as options for confronting Delaware’s opioid crisis at a special University of Delaware symposium.

Organized by Sen. Chris Coons and the University of Delaware’s Partnership for Healthy Communities, the roundtable discussion held at UD’s STAR campus on Thursday, Aug. 22, featured stakeholders from federal to local, including James Carroll, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Panel members discussed options and response efforts for the thousands of Delawareans currently dealing with the cycle of addiction.

Coons said that there is no one “silver bullet” solution to the problem, noting that the $.3.7 billion appropriated by congress last year to address the problem is “nowhere near enough.”

He also marked the increase in deaths among Delawareans from year to year, with roughly 400 in 2018, as proof of the urgency.

He added that at a recent town hall meeting with hundreds of attendees, nearly every hand in the room was raised when he asked who among them have had their lives directly impacted by the opioid crisis.

The same question elicited a similar response at Thursday’s conference.

“That may be the only question I can ask you in this current divided partisan environment in politics,” Coons said. “This may be the one question that brings together conservatives and liberals, republicans and democrats, people from upstate, downstate, and every possible background. It does not discriminate.”

Carroll noted a need to shame insurance companies into covering various forms of treatment that address substance abuse disorder.

“I intend to do it,” he said.

He also suggested that doctors who prescribe opioids for pain treatment should also consider prescribing Narcan, even if the patient didn’t believe themselves to be at risk for addiction.

“We have to get over that stigma,” Carroll said. “It’s like having a fire extinguisher in your house – it doesn’t mean that you’re a pyromaniac; it means that someday, something might happen.”

Rita Landgraaf, director of Healthy Communities, agreed that the crisis crosses ethnic, economic and cultural lines, calling addiction a “chronic disease” than cannot be treated away in a short duration.

New Castle County Chief of Emergency Medical Services Larry Tan spoke about the impact of the Community Substance Overdose Support (SOS) Program.

Established in 2018 in conjunction with Christiana Care, SOS creates a response team of specialists who will visit with patients at home following an overdose.

“There’s really a 48-hour window of opportunity, if you will, where it would be best served to make opportunities for treatment available,” Tan said. “We’re helping identify those patients so they can focus on them.”

He added that the one true treatment is prevention.

“If you can prevent an injury from happening, you’re better off,” Tan said.

New Castle County Chief of Police Vaughn Bond noted the success of the department’s HERO Help program as helping people break the cycle of addiction, arrest, incarceration, and a return to the same environment.

The program offers substance abuse treatment in lieu of incarceration.

“We decided … the best thing for us to do would be to partner up with social services programs and the department of justice and come up with a program,” Bond said. “Word spread and we started having people walk into the station, saying ‘I need help.’”

Carroll noted the inter-agency efforts made to identify people in need and get them the support they need as key to making an impact.

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this, we’re not going to treat our way out of this, and we’re not going to prevent our way out of this,” Carroll said. “We have to do all three simultaneously.”