Delaware officials tout new drug treatment clinic

Delaware Department of Health and Social Services cabinet secretary Rita Landgraf speaks during press conference in Harrington Wednesday.  (Special to the Delaware State News photos by Gary Emeigh)

Delaware Department of Health and Social Services cabinet secretary Rita Landgraf speaks during a press conference in Harrington Wednesday. (Special to the Delaware State News photos by Gary Emeigh)

HARRINGTON — Drug overdoses killed 185 people in Delaware last year, an average of one individual every other day.

Those deaths left families devastated and friends shattered.

Now, with drugs such as heroin becoming an epidemic in the First State, officials are intensifying efforts to combat addiction.

Cathy McKay, president and CEO of Connections, speaks during the press conference Wednesday at which Gov. Jack Markell announced Delaware’s spending priorities to reduce drug addiction.  Governor Markell and Harrington Mayor Anthony Moyer are pictured in background.

Cathy McKay, president and CEO of Connections, speaks during the press conference Wednesday at which Gov. Jack Markell announced Delaware’s spending priorities to reduce drug addiction. Gov.  Markell and Harrington Mayor Anthony Moyer are pictured in background.

“It doesn’t know political party, doesn’t know race, doesn’t know age, doesn’t know gender, doesn’t know sexual orientation, doesn’t know religion,” Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, asserted Wednesday.

“It affects everybody and kills husbands and wives, and moms and dads, and brothers and sisters, and sons and daughters. It ends way too many lives before they have a chance to reach their potential,” he added.

He made those remarks at a gathering of state government officials, health-care workers and residents who were clustered inside a new drug treatment clinic operated by Connections Community Support Programs Inc.

The clinic is set to open by the end of September and will be able to serve between 58 and 128 people at one time.

The state government is spending an additional $4.45 million this year in an effort to combat substance abuse, an initiative proposed by the governor in his January State of the State.

Delaware has a higher-than-average overdose rate, according to several sources. The governor’s office reported nearly 10,000 Delaware adults sought public treatment last year.

The new Connections clinic will contain 16 beds for individuals undergoing detoxification over the course of a week, 12 “23-hour” beds for individuals who may not require medically monitored withdrawal and between 30 and 100 spots for individuals undergoing outpatient treatment.

“Until everyone is without a problem, we have not reached our goal,” said Mike Barbieri, the new director of the

State Reps. Harvey Kenton, R-Milford, left, and William Outten, R-Harrington, were among elected officials attending Gov. Markell’s announcement  Wednesday on spending priorities to reduce drug addiction.

State Reps. Harvey Kenton, R-Milford, left, and William Outten, R-Harrington, were among elected officials attending Gov. Markell’s announcement Wednesday on spending priorities to reduce drug addiction.

Department of Health and Social Services’ Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

Officials hope to open an identical facility in New Castle County, making withdrawal clinics accessible regardless of whether someone lives in Talleyville or Delmar.

They also aim to double the number of sober living residential beds from 60 to 120 and increase the number of residential treatment beds from 16 to 32 for young adults beginning to recovery from addiction.

The money being spent on substance abuse is an “investment in human lives,” DHSS Secretary Rita Landgraf insisted. By sending individuals to rehab rather than to jail, the state can save both people and funds, she said.

The 185 individuals who died from drugs in 2014 ranged in age from 15 to 87, numbers that drew gasps from the audience when Ms. Landgraf revealed them.

Among those attending the news conference Wednesday were individuals who had been personally affected by drug use.

Richard Arway, 24, is recovering from an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Thanks to programs like Connections, he said, he is able to continue his dreams and now seeks to become a substance abuse counselor.

Gov. Jack Markell announced Wednesday an increase in funding for substance usage disorder treatment and recovery services at the Connections Detox Center, still under construction in Harrington,

Gov. Jack Markell announced Wednesday an increase in funding for substance usage disorder treatment and recovery services at the Connections Detox Center, still under construction in Harrington,

The dozens of individuals around the room stood and applauded when Mr. Arway hugged his mother, whom he thanked for sticking by him.

Doug Salter, a board member of atTAcK addiction, a Delaware group that works to combat drugs, shared his perspective. His son, a recovering heroin addict, turned to the drug after using opiates to recover from sports-related surgeries.

“My wife and I went through what every parent goes through dealing with this disease,” Mr. Salter said. “There was stress, embarrassment, days — many, many days — of crying and asking ourselves what we did wrong as a parent.

We had no idea where to go and we had no idea where the answers were.”

Gov. Markell pledged the state would continue efforts to prevent overdoses.

“We are not alone in this fight,” he said. “This is something that has been an issue across the country, and we got to get it right here in Delaware.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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