Eight Delaware programs honored for innovative efforts to curtail opioid epidemic

National nonprofit awards groups fighting opioid epidemic with innovative programs and initiatives that can be established all over the country.

Erin Goldner's organization Hope Street was one of several community groups honored for efforts to address the opioid epidemic (Courtesy of Addiction Policy Forum)

Erin Goldner's organization Hope Street was one of several community groups honored for efforts to address the opioid epidemic (Courtesy of Addiction Policy Forum)

With 400 fatal overdoses last year, Delaware has the fifth-highest overdose rate in the nation.

It’s a distinction the First State would be glad to lose. Representatives of organizations and the state say they are working toward that end by increasing access to treatment; expanding prevention programs; and offering wraparound services such as stable housing.

Recognizing those steps forward, the national nonprofit Addiction Policy Forum has honored eight Delaware programs as a way of spotlighting innovative addiction services in the states hardest hit by the opioid crisis.

“We wanted to go on the ground in those states and find out who is doing amazing, effective, innovative things to turn this around,” said Kimberly Clapp of Addiction Policy Forum.

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“So the idea is, we point out the amazing people and programs in law enforcement, child welfare, medicine, and scale those ideas, and programs and people up for the country to learn from,” she said. “Other states will say, ‘Oh, Safe Stations from Manchester, New Hampshire, we want to bring that to our community.’”

One of the Delaware programs honored was Hero Help, initiated at the New Castle County Police Department, which offers treatment as an alternative to arrest.

“I think that’s a program a lot of communities across the country would like to adopt to say, ‘Why can’t our police department be a place where, 24/7, you can walk in and be connected to treatment?’’” Clapp said.

Project Engage, run by Connections and Christiana Care, was also saluted.

Connections CEO Cathy McKay explained the approach, using the example of an individual in withdrawal who might complain of back pain at the hospital, hoping to get an opioid prescription.

Program peers recovered or recovering from addiction would then step in to discuss treatment options with the patient. Hospital patients recovering from an overdose are also connected.

“If someone is brought in … for an overdose, you have a very short window of time. If they’re overdose has been reversed by Narcan, they’re in withdrawal,” McKay said. “If you can get them to agree they’re ready to start medication right then for their addiction and get them somewhere that medication is available, they’re not going to have to back out and use again.”

The program added 24/7 emergency room presence in all three Christiana emergency rooms — doubling the number of engagements.

Connections also is involved with the program New Expectations — a court diversion program for pregnant women struggling with addiction. The program, which McKay said now has a 100% success rate, also was honored.

“They were sending them to jail or prison because they were pregnant and using drugs, not because they had an offense that required that, but because they didn’t want the baby to be hurt by the drug use,” McKay said.

But babies born in prison are automatically separated from their moms, which hurts both mother and child, she said.

Connections offers an alternative to prison in which women can fulfill their probation, but give birth in a hospital, move into a home and live there until they recover from addiction and get a job and housing.

“They’re grateful because they know the situations they were in and have lost children previously to their drug addiction,” said Diane Tisdel, New Expectations program director.  “So they get treatment, they’re able to keep their babies, they can work. It’s a life they’re not used to living, so they’re very grateful, and it’s very rewarding to them.”

Hope Street, which began in 2016 to push for community-based holistic care for addiction and to offer peer support, also was honored.

The organizers, many who have experienced addiction, work to empower women. The grassroots group attracts clients through word of mouth or even Facebook messages.

Erin Goldner, the president of Hope Street, said she wants to fill gaps in Delaware that aren’t addressed by referral services such as 211 or other short-term measures.

When someone who needs help is told “they’re on the waiting list, a lot of times that gets hopeless, and people use again. It’s this ongoing cycle,” she said. “I can call [Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health], but they’re kind of full, and some of those spaces are just treatment spaces.

“Put them in treatment, but eventually they need a home. So that’s why we need to have discussions with legislators and directors of health and social services,” Goldner said.

“Places like Friendship House are great programs, but they have a certain capacity and have certain rules. And a lot of people on maintenance (like methadone) are not welcome at these abstinence-based programs,” she continued. “We find all these barriers, but people keep trying if you keep trying with them. You just keep asking, asking and trying. Getting females to get their own mortgage and own a home — that’s the dream. But it takes a couple of years.”

Other organizations honored at the event include atTAck Addiction, Wilmington HOPE Commission Winner’s Circle, Delaware Prevention Coalition, and Delaware Substance Use Treatment and Recovery Transformation.

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