Briefing takes note of lead role of fentanyl in 515 suspected overdose deaths
From: Delaware Business Now
This week, Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, along with top leaders from the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services and Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security held a briefing on suspected drug overdose deaths in the state. The event included the announcement of an opioid response center.
In 2021, Delaware reported 515 overdose deaths, an increase of more than 15% over 2020, according to the Delaware Division of Forensic Science (DFS). In Kent County, overdose deaths increased 74% from 50 in 2020 to 87 in 2021. DFS also reported that 425 of the 515 deaths involved fentanyl, a synthetic pain reliever that is 50-100 times more potent than morphine.
“As a nurse, Chair of the Behavioral Health Consortium, and Lt. Governor, I hear every day from Delawareans and their families about the challenges they face battling substance use disorder and receiving the treatment services they so desperately need,” said Hall-Long. “We are working hard across our systems to expand access and connect individuals to quality treatment services. In 2020, Delaware was one of only four states to experience a decrease in the rate of overdose deaths thanks to the hard work of those who are committed to this fight. Still, too many families have an empty seat at the table because their loved one lost the battle to substance use disorder. The current data is alarming. We have to do even more to support them and ensure critical treatment and recovery services are ready and available, and to stop the loss. Delawareans deserve a behavioral health system that works for everyone.”
“Unfortunately, the number of accidental drug overdose deaths occurring in the State has seen a 19% increase over the last three years,” said JoHN Evans, director of the Delaware Division of Forensic science “Fentanyl continues to be the most frequently found compound, with it being identified in 82.5% of the overdose deaths. If you are a white male between the ages of 30-59, you are the most likely to die in our state as the result of a drug overdose.”
Captain Joshua Bushweller, Intelligence Commander and Director of the Delaware Intelligence and Analysis Center (DIAC) at the Delaware State Police reported that more than 5,000 drug-related crime incidents occurred in 2022, with 19% being cocaine-related, 19% heroin-related, 3% methamphetamine, 2% hallucinogen., 2% amphetamine, 1% opium, and 3% other. Marijuana comprised 32% and paraphernalia 19%. New Castle County continues to have the highest incidence of opioid crime incidents compared to the other counties. Capt. Bushweller displayed a heatmap showing drug incident hotspots, calling attention to the top five cities with drug incidents in the last five years. The cities in order of prevalence are Wilmington, Dover, Newark, New Castle, and Seaford.
Dr. Greg Wanner, chief physician for the Delaware Division of Public Health, provided a demonstration of the use of fentanyl test strips that are now included in the Narcan kits being distributed. The test strips are highly sensitive and will detect fentanyl down to 0.1 mcg/ml.
“The use of fentanyl test strips is an important part of a comprehensive harm reduction strategy to reduce overdose deaths in the state,” said Dr. Wanner. “Fentanyl is the leading cause of drug overdose deaths in Delaware. The test strips are a preventive measure. After a test strip detects fentanyl, an individual can choose not to use the drug based on the additional risk. We will continue to discourage drug use and encourage people to seek treatment, but for persons with substance use disorder, we are using a compassionate approach to help raise awareness and empower those individuals to make informed choices.”
Heatlh and Social Services Cabinet Secretary Molly Magarik encouraged Delawareans who need support – whether they are actively using substances or not – to reach out to trusted sources for help.
“We’re urging people who are struggling with addiction to consider different paths towards help,” said Secretary Magarik. “You can ask for the Police Diversion Program if you get in trouble with the law and are ready to get help. You can visit HelpIsHereDE.com to get information about Bridge Clinics where you can walk in and talk to someone who is in recovery themselves and who can help you explore your options for treatment. You can order fentanyl test strips from HelpisHereDE.com so you know what’s in the drugs you’re using and so you can make smart choices about protecting yourself. And you can connect with Brandywine Counseling’s drop-in centers to get help.”