Delaware Goes Purple: Community fights addiction

DOVER — Substance abuse addiction isn’t something that just affects the individuals involved, it also impacts the addicts’ family members, friends, caregivers and employers.

Addiction has risen to crisis levels in Delaware over the past several years. That’s why the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance’s (IMA) Social Action Committee joined with the Delaware Goes Purple substance abuse awareness campaign and reached a full crescendo in Dover on Tuesday afternoon.

The IMA’s Social Action Committee and Delaware State University students held a pair of simultaneous prayer walks and vigils on Tuesday — one in the heart of downtown and the other on DSU’s campus — to put the spotlight on the issue of those battling with substance abuse addiction.

Rev. Rita Paige and IMA Social Impact Committee members, faith, city leaders, Wesley College students and school officials joined with recovery agency representatives as they took to the streets in downtown Dover.

The walk culminated at Loockerman Plaza, where the group joined hands in a circle and sang the hymn “Blessed Assurance,” held a moment of silence and prayers were offered by several faith leaders to all of those who are affected by addiction, including the city, its leadership, first responders, college students, citizens and churches.

Meanwhile, Chaplain Pam Adams and Rev. Carol Harris gathered with leaders at DSU at the flag poles in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Center, walked around the campus grounds and prayed for those suffering from addiction and held a moment of silence for those students lost to suicide, violence and addiction.

“It was the beginning of something that really needs to be done on a continuous basis, not just one time, but I think at least quarterly, we need to come together and pray for the city,” Rev. Paige said. “We wanted the community to see that we’re all in this together. Religious denominations don’t matter — people matter.”

Karl Dyton, of NorthNode Group Counseling LLC, was among the 30 or so people who took to the streets of downtown Dover — which had purple ribbons attached to light posts for addiction awareness — and left the event with a positive feeling.

“This was amazing,” Mr. Dyton said. “It made me feel like it’s a community effort and we all are part of the fight for homelessness, addiction and violence.
“It affects every race, every age, and now it’s starting at a younger age, and we’re here announcing that it’s a call and it’s a need for all races in a community effort. It’s a national problem and I think this is a big step for Dover, Delaware, to say that we’re here to fight the problem.”

Searching for solutions
The IMA Social Impact Committee and Delaware Goes Purple said it isn’t just about wearing purple clothing and putting up purple lighting to provide awareness to the problem. It is about finding solutions to the problems suffered from the 85 million people that are estimated to be impacted by those who battle addiction of drugs or alcohol, according to The Partnership at Drugfree.org.

The Delaware Goes Purple’s website said that 90 percent of addictions are started during an individual’s teenage years and that drug overdoses kill more people than cars, guns and falling each year.

It added that $374 billion dollars per year are spent by federal and state governments on substance abuse and addiction, but only 1.9 percent of that funding is spent on drug and alcohol prevention and treatment.

Then there are the staggering numbers involving the opioid crisis, in which as of Sept. 24, the Division of Forensic Science had reported a total of 209 suspected overdose deaths in Delaware this year. There is always a lag in terms of both toxicology analyses and death determinations. In 2018, there were 400 overdose deaths across the state, an increase of 16 percent from the 2017 total of 345 deaths.

Officials from the Division of Public Health (DPH) announced on Sept. 10 that the agency was awarded a $5.8 million Overdose Data to Action grant (OD2A) from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help reduce fatal drug overdoses in Delaware.

The purpose of the three-year grant is to support the state’s comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach to the opioid crisis in Delaware. The grant period began Sept. 1 and runs through Aug. 31, 2022. The state will receive $5.8 million each year for the three-year period.

“We are losing a Delawarean every 22 hours to overdose. Addiction is a disease that touches nearly every family in our state, regardless of what zip code you live in,” said Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long. “I am proud of the work we are doing to support those battling addiction, as well as their families, with the services they need.

“Delaware Goes Purple is playing a key role in raising awareness and erasing the stigma around addiction. No one has to struggle alone.”
The CDC ranked Delaware as No. 6 in the nation for per-capita overdose deaths in 2017. The state also is ranked first in the nation for the per-capita prescribing of both high-dose and long-acting opioid medications, according to the CDC.

“Up and down our state, we have more work to do to reduce the heartbreaking toll that the opioid epidemic is taking on thousands of Delawareans and their families,” said Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker, a practicing family physician. “This additional funding will help us identify trends and collaborate in ways that were not possible before. Put simply, this funding will help us save lives.”

Pastor Harris, of the Ecclesia Family Worship Center at 1221 Governors Avenue in Dover, and Rev. Regina Bell, from First Pilgrim Baptist Church at 6 Miles Lane in Camden, said last year that they routinely saw individuals dying and the families that were affected by the tragedies from addiction.

That is why they brought Kent Goes Purple to the county and the city of Dover in September 2018, in hopes of bringing awareness to substance abuse and engaging the community and youth to stand up against drug abuse.

“Kent Goes Purple is just a community-conscious initiative to raise awareness, to raise prevention, to introduce education when it comes to substance abuse right now, particularly because of the opioid epidemic that’s taken over our country,” Pastor Harris said.

Mayor Robin Christiansen proclaimed September to be “Recovery Month” in September for those battling mental and substance abuse disorders.
City Councilman David Anderson said the fight against addiction is a multi-pronged one.

“One, if we don’t start addressing awareness for people so they can avoid the problem in the first place and two, those who have the problem knowing where and when and how they can get help and then three, building a positive stretch to keep people off in the first place by building community between faith, family, business and government, then we’re going to keep having a problem,” he said.

Purple is symbolic of the struggle against substance abuse.
“It’s two-fold,” Rev. Bell said. “Purple is a color that stands for our awareness so that we’re saying, ‘Yes, we are aware of the epidemic,’ and not only are we aware of it, we want to share that information with children, families and communities.”

Pastor Harris added that children who learn about the risks of drugs and alcohol from their parents or caregivers are up to 50 percent less likely to use drugs that those who don’t.
The purpose of the Delaware Goes Purple project is to promote the “new conversation” — one that includes prescription drugs.

“We need people to know that it is a disease,” said Pastor Harris. “Some things start off by choice but sometimes when we make bad choices, it kind of leads us down a road.
“We’re making a conscious decision that I will do everything in my power to make sure that (drugs) stops with me. It also keeps our community accountable to each other.

“When I’m walking down the street and I see someone who’s in the throes of an overdose, we’re accountable now. We passed the Good Samaritan law so now people can’t sue you if you have Narcan and administer it to save their life.”
Hopeful words from an addict
Chris Herren, a gifted high school and collegiate basketball player whose rise to stardom paralleled his substance abuse addiction that nearly cost him his life and his family, will be the speaker at “Prevention Starts with All” event at Delaware State University tonight.
Doors will open at 6 p.m. and the program starts 7 p.m. The event at DSU can accommodate up to 900 people and free tickets can be obtained at https://www.sussexcoalition.org/ or www.Delawaregoespurple.org.
In long-term recovery since 2008, Mr. Herren – who played professionally two years in the NBA with Denver and Boston before playing in Europe and Asia into 2006 – inspires people to initiate conversation on wellness and educate themselves on the disease of addiction.
Mr. Herren is the founder of the Herren Project, which takes on the issue of addiction. Vendors will be set up at tonight’s event to share information.
Sussex County Council President Michael Vincent heard Mr. Herren’s story and said it is something that every young person should hear.

“It would be great if every youth in this county could hear him speak and realize what you can go through; somebody who had everything and ended up in the street with nothing,” said Mr. Vincent. “And how he survived, it’s amazing. It’s quite a story.”
Attendees are asked to wear purple in support the Delaware Goes Purple campaign to reduce the stigma of mental health and substance use disorder.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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