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Delaware Senate Democrats

Sen. Sturgeon Sponsors Legislation to Address Substance Abuse in Delaware

March 10, 2021


DOVER – Sen. Laura Sturgeon on Tuesday introduced legislation that will strengthen existing Delaware law designed to keep potentially dangerous and addictive medications from being abused.

The measure is one of several bills Sen. Sturgeon has introduced this year to bring new and enhanced tools to bear in Delaware’s fight against drug abuse and addiction.

“Families from every corner of our state have felt the pain and devastation caused by substance abuse,” said Sturgeon, D-Brandywine Hundred. “Each of us in the General Assembly has a responsibility to do everything we can to address this issue head on. That is why I have been working with Attorney General Kathy Jennings and the Delaware Department of Justice to advance legislation that can save lives.”

“The addiction epidemic continues to devastate families in all three counties, and it’s incumbent on all of us to leave no stone unturned in the fight to end this carnage,” said Attorney General Kathy Jennings. “I’m grateful to Sen. Sturgeon and her colleagues for their leadership and partnership in this fight and I look forward to working with her to help pass these bills into law.”

Introduced on Tuesday, Senate Bill 84 would require hospitals to follow the same reporting rules as long-term care facilities and immediately disclose to the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services when they discover instances in which the delivery of prescribed medication might have been knowingly or intentionally interrupted, obstructed or altered – an act known as medication diversion. Often cases of medication diversion involve narcotics being withheld from patients by personnel who either abuse the drugs or sell them for a profit.

SB 84 also would elevate medication diversion in the law and place would place it on par with abuse, neglect, mistreatment, and financial exploitation.

The bill was developed in cooperation with the Department of Justice’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, which handles enforcement of patient and resident abuse, neglect, mistreatment, financial exploitation, and medication diversion at facilities that accept Medicaid. An average of six medication diversion cases are reported to the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit each year.

“Medication diversion poses a real threat to vulnerable patients and residents, and yet often goes under-reported, sometimes due to confusing regulations that establish when potential cases should be brought to the attention of authorities,” said Edward Black, acting director of DOJ’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit. “Reporting likely cases of medication diversion quickly is essential to our ability to prosecute abuse when necessary and recommend treatment when appropriate. This proposal will streamline those rules and potentially keep more drugs off the street.”

SB 84’s introduction comes less than a week after Sen. Sturgeon sponsored legislation to allow the state, local governments, private organizations, and individuals who work with drug users to hand out test strips capable of detecting trace amounts of fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid that is increasingly being mixed into illicitly sold drugs, often without the buyer’s knowledge, leading to fatal overdoses.

Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids were linked to more than 36,000 overdose deaths in the United States in 2019 alone. A recent report from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration found that fentanyl was present in nearly three out of every four overdose deaths here in Delaware.

Senate Bill 76 would add Delaware to a growing number of states allowing the distribution of testing strips to the public as a way to reduce inadvertent exposure to the drug, a harm-reduction strategy that can help save lives, particularly in combination with needle exchange programs and opioid overdose reversal medications.

Sturgeon is also the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 44, which would allow the Drug Overdose Fatality Review Commission (DOFRC) to review all deaths related to drug overdoses, regardless of the substance involved. SB 44 was released from the Senate Health and Social Services Committee on Tuesday.

Created in 2016, DOFRC is tasked with recommending steps the state can take to prevent future overdoses based on an examination of the facts and circumstances surrounding deaths resulting from previous prescription opioid, fentanyl, and heroin overdoses. SB44 would allow the commission to better monitor the evolving nature of societal drug use over time and make proactive recommendations based on emerging trends.

In January, Sen. Sturgeon also introduced Senate Bill 45, a measure that would create a special license plate for atTAcK addiction, raising awareness of the grassroots nonprofit central to the effort to address addiction in Delaware.