Going Purple: Dover joins substance abuse awareness effort

The Rev. Regina Bell, Pastor Caroline Harris and Dover Councilman David Anderson discuss the Going Purple project which will come to the city and Kent County Sept. 9-22. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

DOVER — Many people just see the staggering numbers when it comes to the drug overdose epidemic in Delaware, not considering the toll it takes on all the people who are touched by those lives lost.

However, Pastor Caroline Harris, of the Ecclesia Family Worship Center at 1221 Governors Avenue in Dover, and Reverend Regina Bell, from First Pilgrim Baptist Church at 6 Miles Lane in Camden, see the individual people that die and the families that are affected by the tragedies.

That is why they are bringing Kent Goes Purple to the county and the city of Dover from Sept. 9 until Sept. 22 in hopes of bringing awareness to substance abuse and engaging the community and youth to stand up against drug abuse.

Joining the movement

A resolution to “Go purple” and join the movement to prevent drug addiction and overdose was presented by Dover City Councilmen David Anderson and Tanner Polce and adopted at Monday night’s meeting of Dover City Council at City Hall.

“Last Tuesday, Kent County (Levy Court) declared as a whole to go purple,” Pastor Harris said, “and now the city of Dover is giving its support as well, which is wonderful as we try to prevent the needless deaths from drug overdoses.

“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.”

Mayor Robin Christiansen also proclaimed September to be “Recovery Month” in the city of Dover for those battling mental and substance abuse disorders at Monday’s meeting.

Overdose deaths continue to be a national problem and they also are on the increase in Delaware.

After all, eight people died from suspected overdoses in a four-day span across the state earlier this month.

As of Aug. 13, the Division of Forensic Science (DFS) had reported 16 deaths from suspected overdoses in Delaware this month. Since the start of the year, the total number of deaths from suspected overdoses reported by the DFS is 167.

In 2017, 345 people died from overdoses, up 12 percent from the 308 people who died in 2016, according to the DFS.

In 2017, about 61 percent of the overdose deaths in Delaware involved fentanyl and 40 percent involved heroin. In many overdose deaths, multiple substances are found in a person’s system during toxicology screens.

Look at statistics

“You look at the statistics, even in Kent County, there were approximately 1,000 instances of Narcan being used,” said Councilman Anderson, of the drug used to reverse the effects of an overdose. “We have a major issue. The deaths would be even higher without it (Narcan).

“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.”

Reverend Bell said nearly everyone has been touched by the drug epidemic.

“Most people are aware,” she said. “It’s in their homes, it’s in their schools, so when we’re going forward it’s like, ‘OK, so how are we going to help? Where can I get help? Where do I go? Who do I turn to for help?

“So, wearing purple says that I understand (substance abuse). You can ask me. How can we help?”

Kent Goes Purple will be marked by the cupola at Legislative Hall being lit up in purple as well as several businesses in the area taking on a purple theme.

Purple a symbol of struggle

Purple is symbolic of the struggle against substance abuse.

“It’s two-fold,” Reverend 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.”

Kent Goes Purple will kick off on a Sunday at several churches in the area.

“September 9th is the launch date,” Pastor Harris said. “It’s a Sunday, so guess who’s going to go purple? The Ecumenical community across the county.

“People are going to go to church that Sunday and their churches are going to be adorned in purple. They’ll hear a purple message and that just means a message of compassion for people that are struggling with the disease of addiction.”

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.

Kent Goes Purple is an initiative from the Sussex County Health Coalition with support from Highmark and DSAMH.

‘New conversation’

The purpose of the 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.”

Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall Long said that Project Purple helps bring some light to the dark world of addiction.

“One of the greatest challenges for people seeking help and in active recovery is the stigma surrounding their addiction,” she said.

“Those struggling should know that their disease is not one that they should be ashamed of or keep hidden.

“Project Purple empowers the community to stand up to erase the stigma and to support individuals who need it the most.”


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