The Communities that Care Summit, cohosted by the Sussex County Health Coalition and the Delaware Department of Substance Abuse & Mental Health, was held at Crossroads Community Church this week, focusing on an open discussion regarding the heroin epidemic in Sussex County.
The summit’s keynote speaker was John Rittenhouse of SHIFTDestiny.
“I want to declare to you that there is hope,” he said.
According to its website, the mission of SHIFTDestiny is to bring “solutions of hope to the most broken, poor or addicted neighbors through team visitations (CORE) and community events (COME). SDI leads, organizes and mobilizes local Christian faith-based networks in community-wide efforts.”
Rittenhouse asked those in attendance if they were currently in the fight with their child or family member, to which the majority of those present raised their hands.
He spoke of his own struggle as a parent of an addict, dealing with denial, self-criticism and searching for a way to “fix” his son.
“You can actually be loving your child to death. The ultimate awakening — being told that the way we were loving him was leading him to death more rapidly,” he said. “For the addict, if they have a roof over their head, a little bit of food and their favorite poison, life’s good, until death do us part…
“For the new heroin user, once they put the needle in their arm, they’ve got an average of five years, pending no interventions.”
Helping the addict “find their bottom” is important, said Rittenhouse, noting that many family members and friends will at some point run, hide or fight.
“You’re going to do all of the above,” he said. “It’s OK.”
As for whether drug addiction is a choice or a disease, Rittenhouse said it’s not easily defined.
“At one time, for every addict, there was bad choice made. In my life, I made some bad choices, too,” he said. “It certainly has the properties of a disease… Come to view this more as a virus or a parasite.”
He emphasized that those who are affected need to maintain hope, even in their darkest hours.
“You’re going to have to do some things that don’t feel like love. He or she is still in there. Don’t lose hope… Every heroin addict at some point wants to die. They’re still in there — don’t give up on them.”
Staff Sgt. Ken Watson of the Delaware National Guard Counterdrug Task Force also spoke during the summit about what law enforcement knows about the heroin epidemic in Delaware, and specifically in Sussex County.
Watson said Delaware shares similar drug threats with the broader Northeast, with heroin being the biggest threat.
“In 2012, heroin became the second most prevalent drug in Delaware,” he said, with marijuana dominating the top spot, at almost twice the amount.
“In the past five years, there has been an increase in heroin-related charges, almost 232 percent. This is thousands. This is a threat, without a doubt,” he said, adding that last year, 200 to 300 heroin overdoses were reported — an 80 percent increase.
In Sussex County specifically, within the last five years, there has been almost a 2,000 percent increase in heroin-related charges.
Heroin found within Delaware is typically light brown, said Watson, adding that fentanyl has been combined with heroin, and fentanyl-related deaths have increased 90 percent since 2013.
Watson said the heroin coming into Delaware is already packaged for distribution, coming from the southwest border and being distributed from large city hubs including Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.
“It comes in from all sides, including the ocean.”
Treatment, resources needed
At the summit, a legislative panel comprising state Reps. Timothy Dukes and Ruth Briggs King and state Sens. Bethany Hall-Long and Brian Pettyjohn, was moderated by Michael Barbieri, director of the Delaware Department of Substance Abuse & Mental Health.
Hall-Long said that heroin knows no race, sex or financial boundaries, as everyone can be affected by the epidemic.
“It’s a human issue,” she said, noting also that 82 percent of inmates in the state have a substance-abuse problem.
Hall-Long said legislators had fought to have Sun Behavioral Health — a 90-bed psychiatric hospital that will offer a treatment program for substance abuse and is now to be built in Georgetown — come to Sussex County.
“We are tired of teenagers going out of state,” she said.
“You’re going to hear the same thing said over and over again. There’s not just one solution to one problem,” he said. “There’s no cookie-cutter way to solve this. People need to be treated as individuals.”
One question posed to the panel was what is being done to stop the drug cartels.
Briggs King made note of a community meeting in Georgetown at which Drug Enforcement Agency representatives had spoken to area residents about their operations. She also called attention to the recent culmination of a two-year investigation led by the Delaware State Police.
“Sometimes it just takes time,” she said.
As was announced last week, that investigation — known as “Duck Hunt” — resulted in 13 suspects being charged collectively with 77 criminal offenses as part of the overall investigation, with two search warrants executed on two separate occasions during the investigation.
On Jan. 13, a search-and-seizure warrant had been executed at Deangelo McGlotten’s residence on Progress School Road in Bridgeville. Another was executed on a vehicle linked to McGlotten. Evidence seized under those warrants included 42,250 bags, or approximately 633 grams, of suspected heroin, $7,740 in cash, a 9-mm handgun that had been reported stolen and a Marlin 30-30 rifle.
On May 11, seven search-and-seizure warrants were executed, on Woodyard Road in Harrington, on Beach Highway in Greenwood, on Progress School Road in Bridgeville, on James Street in Georgetown, on Central Park Drive in Harrington, on South Washington Street in Milford and on Aspen Drive in Cheswold.
Evidence seized that day included 74,425 bags, or approximately 1,116 grams, of suspected heroin; $200,000, including cash and seized assets from numerous accounts; approximately $50,000 worth of jewelry; three Ruger 9-mm handguns; a Raven Arms .25-mm handgun; an M4 carbine rifle; and 23 vehicles, with a total value of approximately $250,000.
The drug seizure on May 11 was one of the largest single seizures of pre-packaged heroin in state history, with the heroin seized having a roughly $740,000 street value. The total heroin seizure for the overall investigation was 116,675 bags, or approximately 1,749 grams, with a street value of $1,166,750.
“Investigations take time,” said Pettyjohn, who attributed television shows with giving people unrealistic expectations related to the time it takes to make drug busts.
“If we get rid of one cartel next week, another cartel is going to move in. … We need to strengthen our communities so that people say, ‘No, we don’t want that anymore,’” added Barbieri.
Barbieri said he is constantly asked why Sussex County doesn’t have more treatment services.
“And I say, ‘Because you don’t want them,’” he stated flatly. “The reason I say that is, whenever we try to open something, the community around that something says, ‘Not here.’
“It’s not for a lack of trying, but we need your support. I’m willing to invest. You find the places where I can invest. That’s the commitment I make to you. But we need your help to do it.”
Another attendee asked what legislators specifically need from the community to champion the fight against the epidemic.
“Your continued engagement, your continued involvement with us,” Hall-Long said.
“A buy-in that this is not my friend’s problem, this is not my neighbor’s problem — this is everyone’s problem,” said Briggs King.
“Step 1: Do what you’re doing right now. Be here, be present. Open your eyes to the problem and want to be involved in fixing it,” added Pettyjohn. “Putting your head in the sand will not fix things.”
Other speakers at the summit included David Humes of atTAcK Addiction; Beth and Jay Duke of Nar-anon; Dr. Lindy Lewis; Debbie Pringle, the director of nursing for Connections; Stacy Winstead, co-occurring specialist at Horizon House; Amy Kevis, director of emergency services for DSAMH; and Bob Carey, the executive director of Delmarva Teen Challenge.
Peggy Geisler, executive director of Sussex County Health Coalition, said it is important for the community to stand together and continue open conversations about addiction in order to address the growing epidemic.
“In order for us to win this battle, it takes all of us to fight united,” she said.