“An average of 20 Delawareans die from overdoses each month. The addiction crisis we face ignores income, race and geography. Fighting it is a team effort that requires us to stay ahead of the curve, and develop a streamlined approach.” - Hall-Long

State leaders are looking to the past to tackle the opioid crisis moving forward.

 In 2001 the state formed the Delaware Advisory Council on Cancer Incidence and Mortality, which later became the Delaware Cancer Consortium, with a goal of reducing the number of cancer deaths statewide.

Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, who was part of that group, said the framework and processes used then can also work for the opioid crisis.

“I feel very positive,” Hall-Long said. “The consortium provided a really solid model because it is driven by the public.”

When it released its four-year report in 2008, the cancer consortium noted Delaware’s cancer incidence rate decreased four times as much as the nation’s rate, and the cancer death rate declined twice as much as the national average.

The state also increased colorectal cancer screening rates among African Americans (39.6 percent in 1999 to 64 percent in 2005) and Caucasians (45.3 percent in 1999 to 69.3 percent in 2005); reduced the adult and youth smoking rates and created the Delaware Cancer Treatment Program, which pays for up to two years of cancer treatment for uninsured residents.

In announcing the creation of the Delaware Behavior Health Consortium on June 8, Hall-Long said, “An average of 20 Delawareans die from overdoses each month. The addiction crisis we face ignores income, race and geography. Fighting it is a team effort that requires us to stay ahead of the curve, and develop a streamlined approach.”

A top priority of the consortium, Hall-Long said, will be reducing opioid-related deaths. But the group will also look to put a structural system in place and identify gaps in treatment. As was the case with the cancer consortium, the Behavioral Health Consortium will rely heavily on public input.

“Through multiple forums, you start to hear themes,” Hall-Long said. “Those themes will drive where we go.”

The consortium will look at corrections and the courts, mental health, co-occurring disorders, suicide and treatment, as well as education, finding ways to erase the stigma of drug use disorders and workforce demands.

Attorney General Matt Denn released a nine-point plan earlier this month for next steps in fighting the opioid crisis. That plan included such things as expanding use of Naltrexone to prevent opioid use by individuals leaving the corrections system, expanding insurance coverage for pain remedies other than prescription opioids and creating a “recovery high school.”

Jeanne Keister of Attack Addiction, a non-profit dedicated to education and raising awareness of the opioid crisis, said the state has done a good job finding ways to address the opioid crisis.

“I think we can always doing more,” she said. “But I think we are fortunate that the people running our government, the state, they feel the same way.”

In addition to running three transitional homes, Attack Addiction was instrumental in helping pass the state’s Good Samaritan Law, which provides legal immunity to people who seek medical assistance when someone is overdosing. It was also key in pushing for more access to naloxone, and it puts on “Reality Tour” educational programs in New Castle County.

Keister said a top priority moving forward is breaking down the stigma so those looking for help aren’t afraid of losing their insurance, or their job or being looked at as a parent who didn’t do a good job raising their child.

“If we can continue to break down the stigma, hopefully those other things will fall into place,” she said.

Hall-Long said Denn’s outline hits on many key areas.

“His steps, what he put forward are things that we all support,” she said. “Still, it is just one aspect, or tool, in addressing the bigger picture.”

Ultimately, she said, the consortium will be partnering with multiple nonprofits, county governments, municipalities state and federal government to address the issue of mental health and drug use disorders.

“A lot of this is a symptom of another issue,” she said. “We need people to talk about this.”

All stories in the series CHOOSE RECOVERY: Opioids in Delaware.