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Delaware sees second record month of overdose deaths in 2022

From: Delaware Public Media

Delaware’s overdose crisis reached a new peak in November with a record 43 deaths, surpassing a previous high set in May of this year.

376 people have died of drug overdoses in Delaware in 2022 — 18 percent higher than in the same period in 2021, which saw 515 people die by the end of the year. Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Director Joanna Champney says historical overdose data gives her agency reason to worry that deaths may continue to trend upwards in the coming months.

“The month of December, for the past three years, is always higher than the preceding month of November,” she said. “So seeing a spike in November has us concerned about what may be coming down the pike next month.”

Roughly half of last month’s deaths occurred in New Castle County, where needle exchange workers say unusually strong free samples – likely containing high concentrations of fentanyl – offered to drug users in November may have played a role in some deaths.

Champney says her agency received similar reports, and notes while it can be helpful to alert healthcare providers and law enforcement of drug supply changes, warning users poses an ethical challenge.

“One of the challenges is – and it’s the same challenge with fentanyl test strips – that some people are seeking those substances,” she said. “We have to balance that when we’re telling people there’s a new, particularly potent drug out there.”

Champney adds her agency will attempt to increase its distribution of the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, including with more door-to-door visits in communities hardest-hit by the crisis. And with health conditions associated with drug use – including sores and infections – taking an increasing toll on users, Champney says her department is looking into deploying nurses or other medical professionals to offer more mobile treatment options.

Meanwhile, DSAMH is also preparing for the launch of an overdose response center next month to identify localized overdose hotspots for faster and more targeted outreach.

So far, the state’s response to the opioid crisis has centered largely on distributing basic harm reduction supplies and providing referrals to treatment options — namely Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), which relies on less potent opioids like methadone or opioid antagonists to treat dependency — through outreach teams or drop-in centers. The state is also investing in expanded residential treatment capacity.