State looking for ways to stop heroin ‘epidemic’

 

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn addresses the growing concern of drug overdoses in Delaware as state Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, D-Middletown, looks on in the Senate Hearing room at Leg hall on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn addresses the growing concern of drug overdoses in Delaware as state Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, D-Middletown, looks on in the Senate Hearing room at Leg hall on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — One hundred eighty-six people fatally overdosed in Delaware in 2014, the equivalent of one person every other day. But that number, while startling, is eclipsed by 2015’s figure: 228.

The nation’s heroin issue has grown almost exponentially in recent years, as more people became addicted to prescription painkillers and turned to heroin, a cheaper and often easier-to-obtain drug.

 Dave Humes,right, and Rebecca King, center, with atTack addiction and Ocean View Police Chief Kenneth McLaughlin each spoke during a meeting with Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn on the increase in drug overdoses in Delaware in the Senate Hearing room at Leg hall on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Dave Humes,right, and Rebecca King, center, with atTack addiction and Ocean View Police Chief Kenneth McLaughlin each spoke during a meeting with Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn on the increase in drug overdoses in Delaware in the Senate Hearing room at Leg hall on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Delaware is no exception.

New Castle County was designated a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in 2015, and the state as a whole has overdose rates that exceed the national average, according to the Delaware Department of Justice.

Delaware has created a computerized monitoring program, developed new regulations for dispensing opioids and invested more in treatment, but drugs continue to be a major problem.

Wednesday, following the first meeting of the Drug Overdose Fatality Review Commission, Attorney General Matt Denn held a news conference to provide an update on the state’s efforts to stop what many have called an epidemic.

More police agencies are carrying Naloxone, a medication that can counteract the effects of opioids and reverse otherwise-fatal overdoses. In August 2015, six police departments in the state had the drug. Today, 23 have at least some of their officers equipped with it.

More than 80 people were saved by Naloxone in 2015, according to David Humes, a member of atTAcK addiction.

“We do want to get all the law enforcement onboard with the training and carrying Naloxone. It’s a life-saving medication, and where there is life there is hope,” he said.

Officials are hopeful proposed policies limiting how many painkillers doctors can provide will be adopted. They also aim to spend more on treatment facilities, although a recommendation from the Department of Justice to use $3 million for treatment was rejected by the Joint Finance Committee earlier this year.

“Across the board, we don’t have the volume and variety of treatment that we want to have for these people,” Mr. Denn said.

He wants to see changes in how health insurance companies handle treatment, saying he has “heard story after story … from people with substance abuse disorders who were told by their insurers that they first had to try a less expensive, less intensive form of drug treatment and had it not succeed.”

The Department of Justice, Mr. Denn said, intends to work with insurance regulators and the state’s Medicaid program to develop a system “that assures individuals with substance abuse disorder aren’t automatically forced to fail before they can have their treatment under their health insurance.”

Key to solving the crisis is treating addiction like a disease rather than punishing those suffering from it, several people said Wednesday.

However, addiction can lead to crime — Mr. Denn and New Castle County Police Department Major Pat Crowell estimated two-thirds of the state’s crime stems from drugs.

This year, about 163 people have died from overdoses, Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf said. She noted it will likely take years before the issue is fully under control.

For now, officials are combating the spread of drugs one day at a time, and they’re hopeful the new overdose review committee can provide clues into trends and causes.

“The dead can teach the living,” commission Chairman Terry Horton said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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