Delaware’s opioid crisis requires radical new approaches

With the release of the University of Delaware’s “Opioid Use Disorder in Delaware: Policies and Programs Report”, it is clear that Delaware’s overdose problem is a direct result of its approach to rehabilitation, failure to reduce misdeeds and the inability to predict a safe supply — and that Delaware is in an overdose crisis.

It is therefore imperative that Delaware not only radically reconfigure its approach to rehabilitation, not decriminalize, but legalize all drugs. Although this approach may seem radical, the statistics do not lie:

  • “In 2020, the state reported 447 overdose deaths statewide — up from 431 in 2019 — and a number that has been rising in Delaware for years,” the report observes. Despite the long list of different approaches the state of Delaware has taken, overdose enrollment has increased 3.7% in one year.
  • “[There is a] marked increase in opioid overdose mortality in Delaware compared to the national rate, with the state’s death rate increasing by 144% between 2011 and 20176,” the report states. “In 2019, 387 Delawareans died from an opioid overdose; there were 355 opioid overdose deaths in 2018. Although not included in this graph, 2020 saw a marked increase in drug overdose deaths compared to previous years in the United States.
  • “The scope of overdose deaths affects all demographic groups, however, the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths were among those aged 25 to 54, higher among males than females, and higher among non-Hispanic white residents than among non-Hispanic black residents,” The report states, “Of those who died of overdoses (of any substance) in 2019, 38.1% lived in unstable housing or were homeless9 , and in 2017, 35% had interacted with the Department of Corrections in the past year.”

Although Delaware bases its image and tourism on being the number one state, Delaware is second in the United States in terms of overdose death rates. In November 2021, The Washington Post and others reported that over 100,000 Americans had died of drug overdoses in the previous year. What is the First State’s response to this? Checkmate – family members, users and politicians don’t know what to do. Some may ask, why is this the case; and following the line across; why isn’t Delaware trying anything and everything to become the first in the United States to come back from second to fiftieth in the United States in terms of overdose death rate?

“Despite the addition of these and other programs, advocates called on Delaware to take more drastic action commensurate with the state’s high mortality levels,” the report said. “With the notable exception of Brandywine Counseling and Community Services, there has been little public advocacy for harm reduction approaches to addressing opioid use and its outcomes, and no organization has publicly expressed support for overdose prevention centers.

“Additionally, geographic disparities in the availability of care have been noted, with access to treatment and other addiction services less available in Kent and Sussex counties, despite these counties having high concentrations of overdose death.

To illustrate this gap in services, I shared my own user perspective:

“When I took heroin, I never had a clean needle,” I told the report’s authors. “There was no access to clean needles. Every time I took heroin or speedballs, I had to share a needle — like everyone I’ve met who did drugs in Delaware.”

What are we missing?

What are the loved ones of Delaware users, users, citizens, and leaders missing in mind when it comes to the overdose epidemic and how to reverse it?

If you could rule God, would you do it again?

I plunge the needle into my arm and pull the plunger until it hits red and run the ocean through the barrel and into the chamber. My neck tightens and relaxes as dopamine floods my forehead as I begin to swim into the depths of heroin. Snorkeling without time, I search for the treasure at the bottom of the sea – I could never find it in my life. My cousin Mickey later tells me that I turned blue like the ocean and my breathing slowed to a light breeze. I overdosed.

I felt rock bottom that day lying on the bed with heroin flowing through my body and my cousin trying to save me as my lungs collapsed further. My cousin decides to shoot me with cocaine to get me out of my overdose. I rise to the surface of the warm waters and explode again into the cold reality of my life. I feel the burning menthol between Mickey’s collapsing fingers. Mickey holds me in his arms, cries and repeats: “I am already dead. The freshest menthol cigarette I’ve ever tasted quivers in his lips.

As of Dec. 31, nearly one million Americans have died from overdoses since the CDC began collecting overdose data in 1999.

Mickey saved me. But there was no one to save him years later. He hit rock bottom, but it was too late. He is dead. He overdosed. Mickey was my saviour. Mickey was on his knees for help.

I am on my knees asking for help from the Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Delaware, and I am on my knees asking for help from the President of the United States, himself from Delaware.

This crisis is at its lowest. The overdose survivor in me and everyone else is a symptom and serves a function in society: we need to help them get to their knees – before it’s too late.

Jordan McClements is a resident of Felton.

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