matt denn

Eleven thousand Delawareans need treatment for heroin and opioid addiction--and just half of them are receiving it, showing clearly just how far Delaware is falling short.

Eleven-thousand Delawareans need treatment for heroin and opioid addiction--and just half of them are receiving it, showing clearly just how far Delaware is falling short.

"Delaware remains in the grip of an opioid epidemic that is ruining lives, shattering families and wreaking havoc on the criminal justice system," said Attorney General Matt Denn.

He revealed an eight-point plan Wednesday that he hopes will begin to the tackle the growing problem. The plan comes on the heels of a Centers for Disease Control report that identified Delaware leads the nation in fentanyl-laced overdose deaths.

There was no hesitation when Denn said the state isn't doing enough to reverse the deadly trend.

"It is time for Delaware to spend money on this problem...dealing with it should be a priority in the state's budget."

Despite Delaware's cash-strapped state, Denn wants to see $4 million in economic development funds diverted to incentivize addiction treatment centers.

"Delaware has spent tens of millions of dollars of economic development funds on all sorts of initiatives over the last two decades including the expansion and maintenance of health care facilities" said Denn. "Now, it's time to use economic development funds to create jobs in an area where Delaware desperately needs them--opioid abuse treatment."

He also said the state needs to add $650,000 to its annual operating budget to improve the interaction between existing treatment programs.

"To ensure a warm hand-off between emergency rooms and long-term care programs...better hand-offs from law enforcement personnel to treatment," said Denn. "These are not glamorous expenses."

Currently the life-saving overdose antidote Naloxone that's carried by police is funded through grant monies or one-time cash infusions. Denn said, the state needs to institutionalize that funding to ensure the future success of the program.

But not all of Denn's plan requires spending money. He suggested the state take a look at the legal and medical ramifications of requiring involuntary treatment.

"For those persons with addictions for whom all other realistic options have failed."

Denn added substantial health risks are being created by Delaware doctors' continuance of co-prescribing opioids and benzodiazepines like Xanax.

State Sen. Stephanie Hansen is also looking for ways to ensure that the state allows for patients, who want to get pain treatment by means other than highly addictive opioids, can do so through their insurance.

"We have failures and gaps at every stage in the life cycle of recovery from an addiction," said Hansen. "Our system is plagued with gaps and inconsistencies that can, and often do, sabotage the journey to recovery."

She added the state's available treatments are complex and difficult to navigate with inpatient treatment centers, too often, serving as a revolving door for addicts.

"It's daunting for someone who is not impaired, and it's nearly impossible for someone who is, and/or someone who is only now for the first time in years sober or clear-headed enough to make a rational decision."

The attorney general also wants to see a recovery high school in Delaware to help teens with substance abuse issues. Successful models like the Bridge Way School in Northeast Philadelphia require and support recovery efforts by offering individualized academic programs and therapeutic services that aren't available in a traditional high school setting, according to its website.

"We need this in Delaware...I'm not a doctor, I'm not a lawyer, I'm just a dad...but I am an educator, and I can tell you that that is something that's needed here in this state--not only for kids going into high school...but for adolescents in general," said Don Keister, with atTAcK addiction, who lost his son, Tyler, to an overdose in 2012. "We really don't have the kind of services for adolescents that we should have and need to have."

Amy Cherry is the Assistant News Director and an investigative journalist at WDEL. She joined WDEL's award-winning news team in 2010 from WBZ Newsradio 1030 in Boston and has received national accolades for reporting.