More legislation filed Thursday targets Delaware's growing addiction epidemic, which has claimed the lives of 96 people so far this year.
Two new bills – if passed – would create a Behavioral Health Consortium and an Addiction Action Committee, both of which would be tasked with creating a plan to address prevention, treatment and recovery for mental health, substance use and co-occurring disorders, according to Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long.
Legislation filed earlier this year and recently signed into law targeted three pieces of the addiction crisis: treatment, the prescription of opioids, and legal assistance if insurance companies turn down patient claims for care.
The bills were met with bipartisan support and passed rather quickly through the state House and Senate.
This package, however, will focus on creating a long-range plan to deal with what many consider the public health crisis of this generation.
The consortium – a recommendation in Gov. John Carney's action plan – will bring together community advocates, police, state leaders and health care professionals to determine a short-term and long-range strategy to combat the heroin and opioid crisis, according to Hall-Long.
If created, the lieutenant governor will chair the consortium at the governor's request.
“An average of 20 Delawareans die from overdoses each month," Hall-Long said. “The addiction crisis we face ignores income, race and geography. Fighting it is a team effort that requires us to stay ahead of the curve and develop a streamlined approach."
The approach is similar to the creation of the Delaware Cancer Consortium, formed in 2001, which worked to address the state's cancer rates at a time when they were considered some of the worst in the nation, said Senate President Pro Tempore David McBride.
"The Consortium's work has paid enormous dividends — I can attest to that firsthand," he said in a statement Thursday. "Today there's a new health crisis, and it's incumbent on Delaware to pull out every stop now, as we did then, to reverse the tide of the addiction epidemic."
This package of legislation also would create the Addiction Action Committee, what is considered the "next step" for the Prescription Drug Action Committee.
Made up of public and private partners, that committee has worked to increase physician and community education for drug take-backs, tighten prescribing rules and support the creation of the state's Help is Here website and campaign. The new group would continue these efforts.
"There's virtually no one in Delaware who hasn't been affected by substance abuse or, more broadly, by mental and behavioral health issues," said state Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, who sponsored one of the bills. "Countless state agencies, nonprofits, advocates, businesses, survivors and families have stepped up to raise awareness of behavioral health issues, reduce stigma, close gaps in care, change policy and save lives.
"This package would not only add their efforts together," he added, "but multiply them by breaking down silos, coordinating their work and pooling all of their unique backgrounds, resources and perspectives around a common — and urgent — goal."
One of the problems Delaware faces is that people with addiction or mental health issues can get lost in transition between different state departments, Hall-Long said.
A child who is getting mental help through the state Department for Children, Youth and Their Families might not always receive similar help through the state Department of Health and Social Services when they grow into adulthood, Hall-Long used as an example. These efforts would seek to end these disruptions.
With three weeks until the session ends at Legislative Hall, Hall-Long said she hopes lawmakers will pass the bills this year.
“It’s a bipartisan, obvious issue,” she said.
Staff reporter Matthew Albright contributed to this story.
Contact Brittany Horn at (302) 324-2771 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @brittanyhorn.