The Division of Forensic Science reported that 537 people died of a drug overdose in Delaware in 2022. This is a 4% increase from 2021. However, Sussex County had the highest percent increase of drug overdoses during this time at 23%. All communities particularly rural communities within Sussex County have unique barriers that make it even more challenging for those who struggle with substance use disorder (SUD). In Sussex County, there is a lack of both treatment facilities and providers for individuals with SUD, fewer prevention programs available, significant limitations for reliable and timely transportation to appointments and follow-ups, language barriers, and stigma around those with SUD.
Some lawmakers believe that the government is not helping addicts by funding programs that allow users to continue to abuse illegal drugs. In 2023 Senate Bill 52, sponsored by Sen. Marie Pinkney, D-Bear, changed the Sterile Needle and Syringe Exchange Program into the Sterile Needle and Syringe Service Program, allowing people to receive needles on an as-needed basis instead of a trade. Before the roll call for the bill on the Senate floor in April 2023, Sen. Eric Buckson, R- Dover, read into the record the story of someone named Amber.
“‘You give me no cap, you give me the opportunity to get 20 while I’m actively addicted, you’re creating commerce,” Buckson said. “I will barter half of them for the use or supply of a drug or the sale of a needle.’ Her comments, not mine and they should matter in this chamber.”
The bill’s fiscal note estimated it would cost the state $100,000 in the 2024 fiscal year, $103,000 in the 2025 fiscal year, and $106,090 in the 2026 fiscal year.
This is based on an estimated 1,150,000 additional needles that must be purchased at a median of nine cents each.
In response to the increasing overdoses in Sussex County and gaps in services, the Division of Public Health (DPH) created Delaware’s Rural Health Subcommittee of the Overdose System of Care utilizing a HRSA Rural Communities Opioid Response Program (RCORP) Planning Grant. In 2021, the DPH was awarded a follow-up three-year $1,000,000 funding opportunity from HRSA to implement the plans created by the subcommittee to address the specific challenges that Sussex County has faced with substance use disorder prevention and treatment. Additionally, in 2022, HRSA awarded the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH) the RCORP Behavioral Health Support Grant which is a four-year $2,000,000 funding opportunity to strengthen mental health and substance use disorder engagement in communities in Sussex County.
Since these awards have been issued, the State says “progress has been made towards reducing SUD stigma, removing transportation and language barriers, increasing substance use disorder services such as buprenorphine inductions and sustained treatment, and working with law enforcement on diversion programs for those arrested for drug use”.
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