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Delaware looks to roll out stabilization centers to reduce overdose deaths

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Delaware Public Media
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Delaware is working to move forward with its plans to create a statewide system of care for overdose patients amidst the pandemic.

Efforts continue in the First State to roll out the nation’s first overdose system of care two years after Gov. John Carney signed legislation to start the process. The system has the goal of reducing Delaware’s overdose deaths, and is modelled after the state’s successful trauma system of care.

The plan’s centerpiece is creating stabilization centers meant to connect overdose patients statewide to the care they need—including long-term treatment for substance abuse disorder.

“We don’t have a choice folks, we have to get this system up,” said Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall Long at an overdose system of care committee Zoom meeting on Wednesday. “We need the stabilization centers, whether we start incrementally utilizing an existing provider or two, whether we’re in the [emergency departments]. But we have to. We wouldn’t tolerate this with a physical health disorder.”

This move will likely involve coordination with emergency departments in Delaware, which are a point of entry into the system for many overdose patients. The plan could also have one or more emergency departments become stabilization centers with backing from public funds.

Beebe Healthcare’s Emergency Medicine Specialist Dr. Kevin Bristowe says ED’s are already strained because of COVID.

“We’re struggling with staffing issues and COVID and sick patients and, you know, COVID patients in our ED and we’re being asked to step up and do this,” said Bristowe. “Again, we’re often successful at doing these things and I get that, but it’s a difficult time for us right now.”

The state is planning to start the stabilization center system by expanding its existing bridge clinics to staff 24-7 as early as January using funding from a state tax on opioid sales. Delaware also wants to use some space in the Sheraton Hotel recently purchased by New Castle County as a stabilization center.

“Hopefully people see that this is a system approach,” said state Medical Director Dr. Rick Hong. “It’s not just building a facility or making [emergency departments] primary stabilization centers. We’ve got to look at the system as a whole and that’s where I think the overdose system of care falls into line.”

Delaware’s overdose death rate has been increasing for years. It had the second highest rate in the nation last year with 431 deaths. The state suspects at least 303 overdose deaths in Delaware so far this year.

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