Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn is calling for greater investment in sober living facilities and long-term drug treatment programs, as the state continues to combat the ongoing opioid crisis.
Denn’s demand, outlined Wednesday in an annual report from the Delaware Department of Justice, comes as overdose deaths continue to rise. In August, the report found, a record 39 Delawareans had died from drug overdoses, a death toll nearly one-and-a-half times the next deadliest month since the state began tracking overdose fatality statistics.
While Delaware has made progress in addressing the opioid epidemic in recent years, Denn said more needed to be done to fill lapses in the state’s response.
“The state continues to spend few new dollars on the expansion of long-term residential treatment or sober living facilities. Since the issuance of the DOJ’s first report in the fall of 2015, a consistent theme of the DOJ’s reports has been the need for Delaware to fund more treatment opportunities in these areas for those Delawareans with substance use disorder who are willing to seek treatment,” the report said.
The 12-page report found that there are just over 200 treatment beds available for approximately 11,000 Delaware residents believed to be struggling with substance abuse disorder. None of those are designated for long-term residential treatment, and the state has fewer than 20 slots for individuals seeking inpatient drug treatment for a period of longer than 30 days.
Over the past four years, Delaware has not added any new slots for long-term residential treatment and has funded fewer than 30 sober living slots in the same period, according to the report. Sober living facilities are considered less intensive than long-term residential treatment programs, and provide stable, supervised housing to individuals who do not require the level of care associated with inpatient treatment.
Critics have argued that the approaches are not as effective as “medication assisted treatment” programs, which fight opioid addiction through prescriptions of buprenorphine and other drugs. However, the report said the absence of long-term treatment is “overwhelmingly the top complaint that the DOJ hears from frontline treatment professionals, individuals seeking to address their own drug addictions, and families of those seeking treatment.”
“Those things are not exclusive and, in fact, ought to be complementary,” Denn said on a Wednesday morning conference call with reporters.
Last year, the General Assembly declined to adopt a DOJ proposal that $4 million in economic development funds be earmarked to incentivize the creation of long-term residential treatment and sober living slots. Lawmakers in 2017 did allocate funds for 20 new sober living beds, but the report noted that providers may not take advantage due to low reimbursement rates and the cost of opening the facilities.
Meanwhile, Delaware has made considerable strides since Denn issued the first DOJ report back in 2015. First responders in 31 of Delaware’s 49 police departments are carrying naloxone, which can rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Doctors are prescribing fewer opioids to patients, and the state has removed the initial legal and insurance barriers to treatment, the report said.
The state DOJ has also sued a contingent of opioid manufacturers, distributors and retail sellers in an effort to hold them liable for their alleged role in the epidemic. The suit has survived a motion to remove it to a federal court in Ohio, and oral argument on the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case is scheduled for later this year.
Delaware also plans to roll out an “overdose system of care” to help patients who have experienced a nonfatal drug overdose. The General Assembly approved $990,000 in new General Fund dollars to create the system, which will help patients navigate treatment and social services and provide access to housing, jobs, counseling and other care.
In New Castle County, police have started a Hero Help program to provide drug and alcohol treatment to people who ask for it. The program is also available in lieu of arrest for lesser crimes in an effort to engage and prevent individuals from committing crimes to support their addictions, New Castle County Police Chief Col. Vaughn Bond Jr. said.
Bond said New Castle County police have helped at least 75 people into treatment, since the program was enacted in 2016.
The county has seen 393 overdoses so far this year, up from 208 at the same time in 2017. Fifty-eight of those were fatal, Bond said.
“It’s still very frustrating, but we can’t give up,” Bond said.