Highmark awards over $1 million to fight opioid epidemic in Delaware

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Nick Moriello, president, Highmark Delaware making the announcement – Photo: WGMD’s Rob Petree

Highmark awarded more than $1.1 million in grants to fight opioid use and addiction in Delaware.

Highmark’s support advances efforts to address the opioid crisis for eight local organizations, including atTAck addiction, Bellevue Cause Community Network, Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware, Friendship House, Jewish Family Services, The National Council on Agricultural Life and Labor Research Fund (NCALL), Sussex County Health Coalition, and TRIAD Addiction Recovery Services.

“The opioid crisis in Delaware, and in our country, is not an issue that will be solved in one day by one program. It will take the collective efforts of dedicated organizations throughout our state,” said Nick Moriello, president, Highmark Delaware. “We are proud to partner with these nonprofits to help heal our communities in effective and sustainable ways.”

Highmark Delaware initially announced the grant opportunity in the spring of 2019, as part of its commitment to addressing the opioid crisis with a comprehensive approach that emphasizes primary prevention, safe prescribing and community supports.

According to Moriello, the grants from Highmark Delaware’s BluePrints for the Community Fund, a donor-advised fund at the Delaware Community Foundation, continue statewide efforts to address the many facets of the opioid epidemic from prevention to recovery. A total of $325,000 was given in 2018 to support Delaware programs addressing opioid-related issues.

These grants and sponsorships support front line efforts including filling an emergency need for naloxone, community-based drug prevention and addiction treatment plans, and rehabilitation and treatment facilities.

“Effective pain management without the need for opioids, and safe judicious opioid prescribing only when necessary and in small quantities helps reduce risk to patients and minimizes having spare opioids around the house when the episode is over,” said Caesar DeLeo, VP & Executive Medical Director for Highmark Health, Inc. “Our goal is to have our members have meaningful conversations with knowledgeable practitioners about the risks and benefits of opioids in the outpatient setting, after tooth extractions and even how to minimize their use after surgeries.”

Delaware was hit especially hard by the opioid epidemic, having the nation’s third-highest rate of diagnosed opioid use disorder among patients who are insured by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA).

The prevalence of opioid use disorder among Highmark’s commercially insured members as of January 2019 is about seven per 1,000 people. The average for the BCBSA is 5.9 per 1,000 people.

“We are losing a Delawarean every 22 hours to overdose,” said Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long. “The good news is that we are making progress thanks to our community partners like Highmark. I want to thank them for their commitment to helping us fight this epidemic. These grants will go a long way to put the needed resources on the streets and in our communities that will save lives.”

Among the recipients of the grant was the Sussex County Health Coalition, an organization that has dedicated itself to helping individuals and families suffering from substance abuse disorder in Sussex County.

Peggy Geisler, Executive Director of the Sussex County Healthcare Coalition, was among those who spoke on Thursday during the announcement. She said the funding will be used so many in Sussex County.

“The state’s doing an incredible job with the treatment piece, but what we’re looking at is wrapping around all of that with all of the other pieces used to fight this epidemic,” Geisler said. “Think about us as sort of the sewer for a quilt.”

From 2017 to 2019, Highmark and the Highmark Foundation collectively gave nearly $3 million to community organizations and programs fighting the opioid epidemic in Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.