As the addiction crisis continues to tear apart communities across Delaware, local organizations have come together to identify areas of need and attempt to fill the gaps in care.
Gaudenzia Inc. — which operates two programs in Delaware for pregnant and parenting women recovering from substance use disorder — released a report Tuesday outlining the trends in people accessing treatment across the region.
Known as the Frontline Report, the information is meant to provide a snapshot of what the organization is seeing on the ground in the hopes of informing policymakers, state agencies, law enforcement and the public about major trends in addiction in their communities.
According to Gaudenzia, the nonprofit’s programs in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., saw a 12% increase in admission in the past year. Of the more than 15,000 people served between June of 2022 and 2023, opioid and alcohol use disorders accounted for the majority of primary diagnoses.
In Delaware specifically, 39% of people seen by Gaudenzia had a primary diagnosis of opioid use disorder, an increase of 4% from the year prior. Alcohol use disorder diagnoses also rose by 2% to make up 29% of patients’ primary substance.
Stimulant abuse decreased as a primary diagnosis in the First State; however, of the 14% of people served by Gaudenzia in Delaware with a secondary substance use disorder, over half abused stimulants.
Gaudenzia also noted that hallucinogens, which previously were not reported as anyone’s primary substance abused in Delaware last year, grew to account for 5% of primary diagnoses. No other state or district in the region reported any growth in hallucinogen use.
Co-occurring illnesses and substance abuse
Oftentimes, people struggling with addiction have additional health issues that may need to be addressed.
Over half of Gaudenzia patients in Delaware had a co-occurring mental illness, which Gaudenzia CEO Dr. Dale Klatzker said points to the need for integrated treatment aimed at addressing all aspects of health.
“We find care specific to one diagnosis or one illness, and we don’t look at people in their totality,” Klatzker said. “A person’s health and well-being does not run in a silo.”
This is especially relevant considering the uptick in people over the age of 55 seeking substance use disorder treatment, Klatzker said, as many also have physical health problems.
In Delaware specifically, about 1 in 5 people treated by Gaudenzia in the past year were in this age group. The most common age range was 25 to 34.
The data points to a need for a variety of specialized professionals, Klatzker said, as what may be effective for treating younger people with substance use disorder may not be helpful for older demographics.
The same can be said for mothers struggling with addiction, said Kristy Blalock, who oversees the Chesapeake Region, Delaware and Washington, D.C., for Gaudenzia. It’s why the organization has worked hard to provide the Claymont Center for Pregnant and Parenting Women with all the resources it needs – ones that can often be expensive and out of reach for other potential providers.
When the center opened in July 2022, it was the first of its kind in the state.
Blalock said that Gaudenzia is open to expanding further in Delaware in the future, but that ensuring the continued operation of the Claymont program is the top priority right now.
“If we are needed more in Delaware, the plan is absolutely to expand, but we want to do it right, and we need to be able to do it sustainably,” Blalock said.
Gaudenzia reported that 41% of the 167 people served in Delaware in the past year were Black, and 8% were Hispanic or Latino. Klatzker said the racial demographic of Gaudenzia clients throughout the region has stayed relatively consistent in recent years and typically reflects the makeup of the overall population of the area.
But in Delaware, the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health has reported that fatal overdoses and drug use are rising in the Black and Hispanic/Latino communities at unprecedented rates.
Fatal overdoses among Black Delawareans rose by 7% last year, according to DSAMH, with the Division of Forensic Science reporting that 29% of reported overdose victims in 2022 were Black. Within this racial demographic, DSAMH reported overdose spikes among men between the ages of 46 and 65.
DSAMH also said that more Hispanic and Latino Delawareans fatally overdosed in the first half of 2023 than in all of 2022, exemplifying the need for more support in traditionally underserved communities.
It’s why DSAMH launched the Health Equity Advancement Project, which aims to bolster efforts to collect more data on substance use disorder in minority communities and implement culturally specific engagement strategies.
Eight local organizations were selected by DSAMH in July to receive up to $50,000 in mini-grants. Because of their preexisting involvement in their communities, the primarily minority-run organizations are “trusted messengers” for groups the state traditionally has trouble reaching, DSAMH Director Joanna Champney said.
For the National Panhellenic Council, the mini-grant funded opportunities to connect with members of Black fraternities and sororities across the state. For the Love and Hope Rescue Mission, the money went toward an assessment to identify the needs and barriers to treatment for the Haitian Creole community.
The state is also making its own efforts to address disparities.
DSAMH Workforce Development and Education Unit Coordinator Marco Brown said the division is working to update training for state employees on best practices for interacting with vulnerable and underserved communities. They have also partnered with organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness to provide more services in Spanish.
“As Delaware combats the opioid epidemic, we must do so through an equity and inclusion lens so no one is left behind,” said Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long at Tuesday’s community response briefing. “A behavioral health system that works for everyone prioritizes culturally competent treatment and services, accessible care that meets folks where they are, and holistic support that addresses the social determinants of health.”
Where to find treatment
Delaware Hope Line: 833-9-HOPEDE for free 24/7 counseling, coaching, and support, as well as links to mental health, addiction, and crisis services. Resources can also be found on the Help is Here website.
Gaudenzia: Call the nonprofit directly at 833-976-4357 or visit its website for more information on access treatment.
Send story tips or ideas to Hannah Edelman at email@example.com. For more reporting, follow them on Twitter at @h_edelman.