Opioids State Taxes

In this file photo, David Humes, left, speaks with visitors inside Legislative Hall, the state capitol building, in Dover, Del. Humes, whose son died from a heroin overdose in 2012, has been pushing for an opioid tax in Delaware, which did not increase funding for addiction treatment in 2017 as it struggles to balance its budget. “When you think about the fact that each year more people are dying, if you leave the money the same, you’re not keeping up with this public health crisis,” he said. 

Addiction advocates made a passionate plea for Delaware to stop dragging its feet when dealing with the opioid epidemic and devote a surplus of state revenues to the creation of a recovery high school.

"Why we are procrastinating on this issue, I have no idea," said Red Clay Consolidated School District Superintendent Merv Daugherty.

Daugherty expressed frustration that his efforts to start--along with non-profit atTAcK addiction--a recovery high school in Delaware as first reported by WDEL haven't moved faster.

"It's almost like having a person in the middle of the street bleeding to death, and we're not willing to go help," he said.

Daugherty has offered up space in the James H. Groves Adult Education Center, off Telegraph Road, and offered to staff the school. Delaware's version of a recovery high school would provide intensive support and mental health services for students while staying tuition-free and open to students of all districts.

He called it a Good Samaritan effort and stressed, in a time of surplus revenues, the state should supply the $2 million in start-up funds included in Attorney General Matt Denn's budget request.

"We're taking a leap of faith; we're willing to provide a lot of the services; we're asking for money that's not new tax money; we're asking to help young men and women who are Delawareans, and help change their lives," said Daugherty. "If we keep waiting, we keep losing young men and women."

Former Delaware Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf said the state needs to invest in treatment and recovery options while it's in a healthier economic position.  

"We know the impact on the lives lost; we know the impact on the quality life that people have when they are impacted by this disease--not only the individuals, but it ends to their families, it extends to employers, it extends to the entire community," she said.  

Daugherty and members of atTAcK addiction spent Wednesday at Legislative Hall knocking on legislators' doors pushing their agenda, which includes a Stewardship Fund created through a tax on opioid manufacturers. 

State Sen. Stephanie Hansen's proposed legislation is up for a vote in the Delaware Senate Health committee on Wednesday, May 9, 2018. If enacted, the legislation is estimated to bring in at least $9 million annually, creating a permanent source of funding for the state to deal with the opioid epidemic.

It's well past time that the companies complicit in creating the opioid epidemic be held responsible said Dave Humes, policy director for atTAcK addiction.

"Our state estimates the cost to the citizens to be over $100 million per year; these costs are incurred by hospitals and health care systems, by our EMTs and police, by our first responders, by our Medicaid system, by our social services, and by our criminal justice system," he said. "For the past 20 years, the opioid manufacturers have been reaping the profits with little consequence of the fallout of the human cost."

Currently, students seeking recovery have little choice but to travel to Northeast Philadelphia to attend the Bridge Way School. WDEL found at least two students who made the hours-long commute each day, spending every penny they owned, because the help they needed wasn't available in Delaware. The tuition at Bridge Way, a private school, is $25,000 a year.

Furthering the problem, Delaware offers no in-house residential treatment programs for youth. Landgraf and advocates are seeking $4 million to increase options for treatment in the state of Delaware.  

"Any other disease we are able to support here in our state, except for this one," said Landgraf. 

It's a reality Jennifer Sliney faces daily. The emergency room nurse sees the opioid epidemic first-hand on the job and at home. Her teenaged son, Jeffrey, is addicted to prescription drugs.

"We sought the best treatment for an adolescent suffering from substance abuse--that treatment is not in Delaware; therefore we spent over $65,000 sending our son to an adolescent in-patient facility in Pennsylvania and then onto a sober living home, also in Pennsylvania, for another five months."

But when her son returned home in November, the long-term struggle became more evident.

"What he didn't have is a safe place to come back to for school," she said. "One of the hardest truths to accept is that sobriety is more important than education; I had to accept the reality that my son may never successfully attend high school again [and] may never receive his high school diploma."

Addiction experts agree: returning to the source of addiction, surrounded by their peers, can put youth at a higher risk of relapse. She begged for the creation of a recovery high school in Delaware.

"A recovery high school can supply support to a student working to live a sober life every day in school," explained Sliney. "My son is the kid who needs this school."

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.