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Overdose Deaths Reach a Record High in Delaware

From Courier Express

by Rob Petree

A record number of people died in Delaware from suspected overdoses in August, according to reports from the Delaware Division of Forensic Science.

The monthly total of 39 deaths was the highest since the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) began tracking deaths from suspected overdoses in late 2013. The previous high monthly total was 27 deaths in April, 2018.

“It is heartbreaking and alarming to see so many lives lost to suspected overdoses,” said DHSS Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker, a board-certified family physician. “We suspect that many of the overdoses involved fentanyl so we are warning people who are in active use to assume that the illicit drugs they are using contain this highly toxic and dangerous synthetic opioid. Any use of such a substance could kill them.” Fentanyl is up to 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin.

If a user has ingested fentanyl or a drug laced with fentanyl, time is critical because the powerful opioid quickly affects the central nervous system and the brain. Users often have trouble breathing or can stop breathing as the drug sedates them.

If someone is too drowsy to answer questions, is having difficulty breathing, or appears to be so asleep they cannot be awakened, call 911 immediately. Under Delaware’s 911/Good Samaritan Law, people who call 911 to report an overdose and the person in medical distress cannot be arrested for low-level drug crimes.

In 2017, about 61 percent of the overdose deaths in Delaware involved fentanyl and 40 percent involved heroin. In many overdose deaths, multiple substances are found in a person’s system during toxicology screens.

“Despite significant seizures of heroin and fentanyl by law enforcement agencies, we continue to see an increase in the presence of fentanyl and heroin throughout the state,” said Department of Safety and Homeland Security Secretary Robert Coupe. “Law enforcement is committed to continuing to seize and interrupt the distribution of these deadly drugs, while working with our community partners to support the treatment initiatives that assist those afflicted with substance use disorder.”

As of Sept. 8, the Division of Forensic Science (DFS) has reported 202 deaths from suspected overdoses in Delaware this year. Because there is a lag of six to eight weeks for toxicology analyses to be finished at DFS, the total number of deaths likely is much higher. In 2017, 345 people died in Delaware from overdoses, up 12 percent from 2016, according to DFS.

Elizabeth Romero, director of DHSS’ Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, encouraged individuals in active substance use in Delaware to see a medical provider immediately, ask police or other first responders for help, or to call DHSS’ 24/7 Crisis Services Hotline to be connected to trained crisis professionals who can discuss treatment options.

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