Sussex County Council grants support to ‘Purple’ effort

Sussex County Council at its Oct. 2 meeting though formal resolution officially joined the “Goes Purple” movement against substance abuse and opioid addiction. Counci lalso presented a $5,000 check to the Sussex County Health Coalition in support of its awareness, education and prevention initiative. From left: Council members George Cole and Samuel Wilson Jr., SCHC Executive Director Peggy Geisler, SCHC grant manager Lisa Coldiron, and council members Rob Arlett and Michael Vincent. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

GEORGETOWN — From a governmental standpoint, it’s now official: Sussex County is a “Goes Purple” community.

A community-driven, grass-roots effort to combat the national substance abuse and opioid epidemic that last year in Delaware claimed more than 300 lives and has devastated countless families has officially garnered Sussex County Council’s blessing and financial support.

One week after a presentation by Sussex County Health Coalition Executive Director Peggy Geisler, county council members donned purple “Sussex Goes Purple” T-shirts and checked in with a $5,000 contribution to the county initiative under the direction of the SCHC.

Council members Rob Arlett, Samuel Wilson Jr., George Cole and Michael Vincent voted 4-0 in approving the Sussex Goes Purple resolution, declaring Sussex County a “Goes Purple” community.

The vote approving the funding was also 4-0. Councilman I.G. Burton did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.

“Absolutely,” said Mr. Arlett in casting his support, “and thank you to those on the ground floor making a difference.”

The $5,000 is a countywide youth grant. It is earmarked for youth prevention/education programs. That may include expansion of the number of kids served by Botvin LifeSkills, an evidence-based substance abuse/violence prevention program used in schools and communities throughout the United States and in dozens of countries worldwide that has a proven high success rate.

Some funding may also be funneled toward empowering youth to be the messengers in getting the word out to other youths. One option might be for students in participating school districts to set up their own sort “Purple” educational groups.

“We know … peers listen to other peers before they’ll listen to adults,” said Ms. Geisler.

“We want to empower youth prevention-based activities and some messaging within their own district. Whatever they want to do I want to empower them to sort of be in charge of that promotion within their own district.”

“And you kind of need it to be more comprehensive,” said Ms. Geisler. “You need to have the support for the kids who are identified as needing support. You need to have the education, which would be Botvin LifeSkills. But you also need the awareness and information. It’s that three-pronged approach that changes the environmental strategy to really mitigate early use.”

While voting in support of the funding, Mr. Wilson made note that the monetary contribution was not specifically listed as an agenda item.

“I didn’t see that on the agenda,” said Mr. Wilson, adding if the county is going to “spend $5,000 we ought to least know what’s going on.”

During county council’s Sept. 25 meeting punctuated by Ms. Geisler’s presentation, council president Michael Vincent asked to have the Sussex Goes Purple initiative placed on county council’s Tuesday, Oct. 2 agenda. The plan was to formally adopt a resolution supporting the Goes Purple movement and address possible financial support.

In 2017, there were 345 fatal drug overdoses in Delaware, 64 of which occurred in Sussex County. That same year, emergency responders in Sussex County administered overdose-reversing drugs 570 times to nearly 400 individuals.

This past August was the deadliest month in Delaware; 39 people died from suspected overdoses, according to data from the Delaware Division of Forensic Science. Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services began tracking deaths from suspected overdoses in late 2013. The previous high monthly total was 27 deaths, in April 2018.

The Project Purple is an initiative of The Herren Project, a nonprofit foundation established by former basketball star Chris Herren, who after 14 years battling alcohol and drug addiction, employs his sobriety as a motivational speaker to assist individuals and families struggling with addiction.

Purple became the color of Mr. Herren’s Project Purple initiative when a girl wearing a purple shirt stood up during Mr. Herren’s presentation and proclaimed her and her friends’ pledge to not use drugs or alcohol, which drew snickers from others in the audience.

Locally, the “Goes Purple” movement began with Seaford Goes Purple. It has quickly expanded to Sussex Goes Purple and Delaware and even Delmarva Goes Purple efforts.

Ms. Geisler says the SCHC truly appreciates the county’s involvement, interest and support.

“I think what that does is it says, ‘Look, Sussex County, county council is really committed to this,’” said Ms. Geisler.

“Now they can go back and be champions in their own community to get more businesses on board, or other organizations on board.”

“The private sector took hold first. And now we’ve got really the political, public sector government. What we are showing is this true synergy that this is an important issue among all our stakeholders,” said Ms. Geisler. “And it is going to take all of us if we are going to hope to address this issue.”

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