Opioid addiction is a disease that can happen to anyone – that’s the theme that emerged at the Beebe Goes Purple drive-thru educational event Oct. 7.
Kim Blanch, a nurse and community services manager at Beebe Population Health, said the event aims to raise awareness of opioid addiction, reduce stigma, offer resources and connect with community partners. The campaign was initially spearheaded by the Sussex County Health Coalition, she said.
While navigating a one-mile loop through Hudson Fields, attendees in cars visited vendors stationed along the way before parking to listen as speakers shared experiences with addiction, recovery and death.
Scott Kammerer, president of SoDel Concepts, said he has been clean for 26 years, and he still mourns a loved one he lost to opioid addiction 20 years ago.
“A little piece of me died, and I’ll never be the same,” Kammerer said.
Against all odds, Kammerer said, he survived, spending many years in therapy. Kammerer said he met Matt Haley, who eventually founded SoDel Concepts, at an AA meeting in Rehoboth. Haley had learned to cook while in prison, Kammerer said.
“There is hope; there is life beyond addiction,” Kammerer said. “From death and unhappiness, there can come growth. Don’t give up; there’s better times ahead.”
Eric and Sally Cohen said they lost their son Jason to overdose in 2019. Jason graduated with honors from Syracuse University and was second in his law school class, Eric said. Jason went on to be the youngest partner in history in his New York law firm, married, and had two kids.
After Jason had back surgery, Eric said, he was prescribed painkillers.
“They were the beginning of the end,” Eric said. “He was still a partner in the law firm until the day he died.”
This awful disease affects everybody, Eric said, from the president of a restaurant chain, to the guy pumping gas, to a partner in a law firm.
Nurse Kelly Palekar of Beebe’s Behavioral Health team said the hospital has seen a 60 percent increase in overdoses since COVID-19, and that Delaware is second in the nation in opioid overdoses.
“We’ve never seen anything like it, in every age from teens through 70-year-olds,” Palekar said. There are overdoses on prescribed medicines as well.”
Beebe Healthcare CEO and President Dr. David Tam said more than half of overdose deaths in Delaware occur in Sussex County. In 2019, he said, Beebe saw 500 psych-related emergency room visits, which often involve substance-use issues; the hospital had already seen 400 such patients by August of this year.
“This tragedy, this epidemic continues,” Tam said, “And every tragedy we have is personal.”