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Delaware opts to expand use of addiction mentors rather than treatment capacity

Delaware Public Media

Delaware health officials say they’re investing in hiring more peer mentors for patients struggling with substance abuse disorder. But the state is also stalling plans for the so-called 'centers of excellence.'

Officials announced the launch of the Substance Use Treatment Recovery and Transformation (START) Initiative Wednesday. It aims to connect patients with substance abuse disorder throughout the state with addiction treatment by expanding the use of peer mentors—life coaches who are in stable long-term addiction recovery themselves.

But Secretary of Health and Social Services Dr. Kara Odom Walker says the state is not moving forward at this time to increase its treatment capacity.

Walker has referenced plans to fund three ‘centers of excellence’ for substance abuse treatment in the past, but now she says the state is not planning for new brick and mortar facilities.

“We will never be able to build the number of beds needed to treat 11,000 people who are suffering from addiction every year,” said Walker. “That is why you need a system that is adaptable and really relies on outpatient, peer-recovery supports to get people into the treatment that they need when they need it.”

Four strategies were outlined in a 33-page review of Delaware’s treatment system conducted by John Hopkins in July: Increase the capacity of the treatment system, engage high-risk populations in treatment, create incentives for quality care and use data to guide reform and monitor progress.

Walker says rather than expand treatment capacity, the START program seeks to upgrade existing facilities by creating quality incentives.

“So this is a way to incentivize higher quality among providers who may not be yet providing all of those levels of excellence that we know work. But we want to get everyone there if they’re prepared for it and interested in making that investment,” said Walker.

Initially, contracts have been awarded to Brandywine Counseling and Connections to act as the highest level providers of treatment and services in a statewide tier system of addiction treatment centers.

And Recovery Innovations has a one-year $375,000 contract with Delaware to make peer mentors available to engage patients at various entry points into the treatment system, such as emergency departments or community health centers.

The START Initiative received $2 million in federal funding, and also will receive funding from Medicaid reimbursements and state general funds.

Using its certified recovery peers, START is expected to engage and treat more than 900 new clients in its first year—the same number officials expected of the centers of excellence.

A day-long forum was held with health care providers following Wednesday's announcement to discuss the best use of peer mentors.

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