I’ve read that it takes a village to raise a child. I’ve learned it also takes a village to save one. I witnessed the horror of watching my youngest son, Matt struggle with the disease of addiction for seven  years. Unfortunately, our story did not have a happy ending. Matt lost his battle on a bitter day in January 2015.   

I began to form my village several months after his death. I was told that my anger would surface, that I would become angry at Matt for having a disease that was supposedly self-inflicted, that this anger would help me come to terms with his death. I can tell you, my anger did come, but, rather than Matt being the target, the broken system of care for those suffering from addiction became my nemesis. 

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I became Matt’s voice, and over time I began to connect with people who held the same view of this broken system. Luckily, these people  also held power in my home state of Delaware – a tiny state with a huge problem – ranked one of  the top 10 states effected by an epidemic that killed 72,000 in 2017. 

In May of that year, I stood next to the governor, surrounded by my village, as three hard-fought bills around the treatment of addiction were signed into law. I went from pride to profound grief that Matt was not sitting there giving me a thumbs up for never giving up.

I left that meeting feeling my advocacy work was done. Call me naive, but  I honestly thought these bills would change the treatment for substance use disorder.  I soon learned that bills and laws are only as powerful as the people standing behind them. My fantasy of available treatment for everyone was shattered by one phone call. My buried feelings of hopelessness and despair resurfaced as I learned that Matt’s best friend’s son was dead.  A victim of the broken system I’d foolishly thought was fixed.

The door to saving Matt slammed shut 44 months ago, but the power of a mothers grief blew another open. 

That day I learned a fundamental lesson. Advocacy was never meant to be a sprint. It’s more of a marathon, run slowly with precision – a race that continues without sight of the finish line. I dusted off my shoes and began my journey back to advocacy. 

In 2017, the Behavior Health Consortium was formed, a consortium comprised of community advocates, law enforcement, health care professionals and state leaders. On September 10 2018, I stood alongside the Governor surrounded by advocates, legislatures, physicians and law enforcement as three more Delaware bills were signed into law, bills that the rest of the nation can certainly learn from:

HB 440. Sets up a model of care in Emergency Departments throughout the state when responding to victims of an overdose. The bill initiates the transfer of patients to a stabilization center where comprehensive treatment will be in place immediately. Before, overdose victims were released shortly after arrival, with no hope of getting treatment.

SB 206. Coordinates data sharing between state agencies and the Delaware Prescription Monitoring Program to study overdose data and create recommendations for safer prescribing and practices. Initiated after 2017 statistics showed that 2,000 Delawareans suffered a non-fatal overdose yet continued to be prescribed opioids.

SB 225. Establishes alternative treatments for back and other chronic pain and encourages both patient and prescriber to use proven non-opioid methods of treating pain – massage therapy, acupuncture, and yoga.

Real Leaders is committed to highlighting solutions around the opioid epidemic. To subscribe to the magazine click here and use promo code “inspired40” at checkout for a special 40% discount off a digital or print subscription.