Highlighting opioid addiction in the community. For information visit delawaregoespurple.org.

A Sussex County group is turning Delaware purple to raise awareness of substance abuse disorder, eliminate the stigma surrounding it and cut the number of people suffering from it.

The Sussex County Health Coalition was founded fourteen years ago and has evolved to focus primarily on the opioid crisis. According to the Division of Public Health, 288 Delawareans died of a drug overdose involving opioids in 2017, the most recent confirmed data available.

“Nobody comes out of the gate and says, ‘I think I’ll be a heroin addict today,’” said Executive Director Peggy Geisler. “It’s an epidemic, and we have to figure out multiple ways to address it.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has documented rising opioid overdoses since in the 1990s, coinciding with an increase in opioid painkiller prescriptions. Around 2010, heroin overdoses began to increase, and around 2013, overdoses involving fentanyl began to rise. The opioid-related toll in 2017 was the highest in state history.

“There’s a lot of top-down approaches with state government funding, and they’re very important. But when the community needs to heal or is scared, what they do is rely on each other, and there’s something to be said about that. Both of those approaches need to be happening if we’re going to stem the tide,” Geisler said.

Geisler’s home of Talbot County, Maryland, inspired the campaign.

“Everything was purple. The lights were purple, the papers were purple. I was like, ‘What is the deal?’” she said. “It’s about opioid awareness and it really centers around Chris Herren.”

Herren is a former pro basketball player and opioid addict turned sober motivational speaker. He founded The Herren Project, which inspired the purple movement. You can read more in this edition’s special insert.

Geisler and the coalition started brainstorming on how they could bring the purple campaign to Sussex, while taking it a little further.

“We’re trying to really unite our community, but also expand prevention services and activities, drive people into treatment and put supports in place,” she said.

The inaugural campaign took place in Sept. 2018 in Seaford.

“Little did we know how many people wanted to figure out how they could make a difference,” Geisler said. “Once we launched, people started asking why Sussex County wasn’t purple.”

This September and October, “Delaware Goes Purple” groups are active in all three counties. Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall Long is the honorary chair. The Delaware Memorial Bridge, Indian River Inlet Bridge and Route 1 toll plazas are all lit purple, along with a long list of businesses.

For information on how you can “go purple,” or for addiction resources, visit delawaregoespurple.org.