Police, EMS discuss opioid epidemic data, impact

Date Published: 
Nov. 3, 2017

Special to the Coastal Point • Submitted: The numbers are daunting in Delaware’s heroin epidemic.Special to the Coastal Point • Submitted: The numbers are daunting in Delaware’s heroin epidemic.“This is like watching a hurricane grow,” said Robert Stuart regarding the heroin epidemic in the state to those attending the Sussex County Today & Tomorrow Conference on Oct. 25.

Stuart, director of Sussex County Emergency Medical Services, was joined at the conference by Lt. Tim Hulings and intelligence analyst Nicole Sapp, both of the Delaware State Police.

Stuart noted that, in looking at heroin-related statistics, the Millsboro area was in the top five for use of the overdose-reversing drug Narcan (naloxone).

“It’s not an underprivileged community — it’s one of the fastest-growing towns in the state of Delaware,” he said. “It’s the entire state of Delaware… It’s everywhere.”

Hulings said he and Sapp work for the Delaware Information & Analysis Center, which takes crimes and hazards, and determines their validity and relevancy.

“We believe the opioid epidemic is a Homeland Security matter. It’s a poisoning epidemic, plain and simple,” he said, noting that they work with 78 other centers in their network. “It does impact economic development, it does impact our communities, and we know there are things being done — but what can we all do as a community?”

Hulings said that, in 2016, he went to Washington, D.C., with the National Governors Association to take part in a meeting with other representatives from Delaware, to collaborate and share information on the opioid problem.

“We were told to come up with a better understanding of the opioid epidemic in Delaware — what we call situational awareness. We met, collaborated and shared information on an unprecedented level,” he said.

“In the past, we had restrictions on law-enforcement sensitive information, restrictions with HIPPA protected information — we overcame these barriers by removing personal identifying information and answering the questions, ‘Who’s overdosing in Delaware, generally?’ ‘Who’s dying from an overdose in Delaware?’ ‘Who’s seeking treatment in Delaware for drug addiction?’ ‘Who’s getting arrested?’”

From that meeting, the Drug Monitoring Initiative was created.

Sapp said her office receives data from EMS, forensic science and DSAAM. They also analyze law-enforcement information from at least 42 local and state law-enforcement agencies.

“All information is combined into one report — the Drug Monitoring Initiative,” she said.

Sapp said that the key findings show that, this year, from the first to second quarters, there was a 16 percent increase in overdose deaths, and 72 percent of patients administered Narcan had overdosed in their homes.

“Once we put it together, we do send it out to our partners for their input and review,” she said, adding that the main goal of the work is “to provide constant, actual information to help address issues related to the drug epidemic affecting our state.”

Stuart said those involved are trying to determine the who, what, when, where and why of the problem.

“I think this report gives us a lot of information and helps answer the first part of the question.”

He added that the State is taking action to address the problem, with the Behavior Health Consortium & Addiction Action Committee.

Earlier this month, the Delaware Division of Public Health announced that they would be launching a life-skills pilot program in eight middle schools throughout Delaware, with the goal of teaching students the skills they need to prevent addition, promote positive decision-making and reduce violence.

In Sussex County, the participating schools include Seaford, Selbyville, Millsboro and Georgetown middle schools, along with the Southern Delaware School of the Arts.

“This problem is not going to be solved quickly, but I think having this information and having a collaborative effort to put this together is a great start for the State of Delaware and Sussex County. ‘‘

Stuart said it is important for everyone to realize there is a problem in the state, and that it affects more than just the users.

“I went to a forum a few months back, and a woman came up to me and gave me a big hug and she said, ‘I want to thank you for saving my son.’ I said, ‘On behalf of my paramedics, I’m glad we were able to do that. When did this occur?’ And she said it occurred six times. I’m, like, ‘Wow,’ and she was crying.

“The room was covered with pictures of dead young people — young people who died of overdoses. This report doesn’t really put it in perspective until you see the faces in those pictures, you see the face of a mother who has lost a son, or a daughter, or a niece or a nephew… It’s very powerful.”