'We're losing too many lives to addiction': Delaware expands recovery initiatives

Coming off a summer in which a record monthly total was set for suspected overdose deaths, the State of Delaware Wednesday introduced a program designed to get addicts into treatment.

The START Initiative enlists the help of certified recovery peers, people who can use their experiences for the benefit of others. It also helps addicts negotiate issues such as housing, education, transportation, and required check-ins with probation or other authorities.

"Peers will not only help individuals navigate the treatment system and be there when those cravings or doubts arrive, but they also will help people navigate the other services they need and the other help that they need," Governor John Carney said during the kick-off event in Wilmington.

According to Delaware Health and Social Services, more than 900 new clients are expected to be treated in the first year through the Substance Use Treatment and Recovery Transformation (START) Initiative. The Delaware Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health is contracting with Brandywine Counseling & Community Services and Connection Community Support Programs. Additional treatment providers are expected to be enlisted this fall.

It's the kind of service Don Keister wishes were available when he realized his son was facing an opioid addiction problem. 

"With this continued support from a peer, those in recovery can concentrate on getting well," Keister added. "I truly wish that this type of support was available when I was fighting for Tyler's life."

The START Initiative is also designed to deal with the aspect of recovery that perhaps is most frustrating to an addict's loved ones: the threat of a relapse.

"A lot of times people just don't know what resources to send someone to when they are relapsing. What we want to do is make it easier - easier to find your way in, easier to get assessed and move to the next point of need," Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Director Elizabeth Romero said. 

Susan Dembowczyk is already involved as a peer support specialist, using her own battle with alcoholism and the loss of her daughter to addiction to benefit others.

"I just give them hope," Dembowczyk said. 

Reporter - Anchor

Mark Fowser is a veteran journalist in Delaware.