State officials propose new laws to fight ‘opioid epidemic’

Matt Denn

DOVER — Three proposed laws aimed at quelling Delaware’s substance abuse crisis will have full bipartisan support when introduced to the General Assembly, legislators said Wednesday.

Attorney General Matt Denn was joined by those affected by opioid abuse when unveiling the bills at Legislative Hall.

Delaware reported the 12th highest drug overdose rate in 2015, when 228 people died. Last year, the number of fatalities rose to 308.

Clean since Oct. 28, 2011, Matt Guthrie spoke of his “up and down journey” for years when facing a substance use disorder that favored heroin and left him homeless at times while in an out of treatment centers and bringing “trauma” to his mother, father and brothers. He’s lucky to be alive, but grieves for so many fellow users who are not.

The state government is attempting to provide more support for addicts and their families to assure proper insurance coverage, from entering programs to begin with and bringing longer in-patient treatment stays upon arrival.

“We’re all in,” said Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro, a Democrat. “We’re here to protect those who have an illness and should be treated like everyone else.”

Mr. Navarro urged that anyone reaching insurance roadblocks should call his office at 674-7300.

“You’ll get a person,” he said. “There will be a response and you’ll get a resolution.”

Also on the radar is more oversight on prescription drug dispensing through a drug database aimed at monitoring trends among doctors. MaryBeth Cichocki described her late son’s heroin addiction that began with over-prescription of opioids after back surgery, which once included a 30-day supply of 160 Percocet pills and 116 Methadone pills, along with 78 tabs of Zanaflex for 26 days.

“This practice was in the practice of creating addicts for a pretty good money flow,” she said.

The draft of a 10-page bill “requires carriers to provide coverage for medically necessary inpatient treatment of drug and alcohol dependencies and prohibits carriers from imposing pre-certification, prior authorization, pre-admission screening, or referral requirements for the diagnosis and treatment, including in-patient treatment, of drug and alcohol dependencies.”

Sens. Lawson, Margaret Rose Henry, Stephanie Hansen, and Anthony Delcollo, and Reps. Helene Keeley, Michael Mulrooney, Timothy Dukes and Ruth Briggs King are committed to guiding the legislation through to becoming Delaware Code. The push comes from House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats, New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties.

Speaking to the gathering Wednesday, Sen. Lawson turned to Attorney General Denn and pronounced, “Admittedly, we disagree on a lot of things. On this one we are in lock step.”

Sen. Lawson maintained, “It’s not the way things are that we should bury our children, from addiction or anything else. We will get ahead of this. With your help, we will get ahead of this … There is no excuse not to get this done.”

State Director of Public Health Dr. Karyl Rattay described current conditions as an “opioid epidemic.”

“In addition to those that have died, tens of thousands in Delaware are struggling with the disease of addiction. They deserve coordinated, effective care. Treatment works and recovery is possible, and these bills will help people get treatment.”

Mr.  Denn said his office has gotten more involved and pushed for better treatment because, obviously, “drug addiction drives much of our criminal caseload.

But the larger reason is that you cannot meet these families, meet these people, hear what they have been through, and not become an advocate for fixing this problem.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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