Fentanyl Deaths Up Sharply in Delaware

Fatal drug overdoses spiked to 308 during 2016, and the Division of Forensic Science confirmed the presence of fentanyl in more than one-third of the 308 cases.

The surge in drug overdoses related to synthetic opioids continues, with authorities in Delaware reporting Feb. 14 that fatal drug overdoses spiked to 308 during 2016 and fentanyl was involved in one-third of those fatal overdoses, according to toxicological analyses.

Sometimes the user mixed fentanyl with cocaine or heroin, or both, according to figures released by the Division of Forensic Science. Fentanyl is a synthetic painkiller that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin; in the 120 fentanyl-related deaths in the state in 2016, fentanyl alone was confirmed in 51 cases, cocaine also was present in 48 cases, and heroin was confirmed in 37. In 16 cases, heroin and cocaine were both confirmed positive, in addition to fentanyl. During all of 2015, there were 42 overdose deaths involving fentanyl in Delaware.

CDC has reported that death rates from synthetic opioids rose 72 percent from 2014 to 2015. In Delaware, the number of fentanyl-related deaths soared by 180 percent from 15 deaths in 2012 to 42 deaths in 2015.

Delaware Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker, a family physician, urged individuals in active substance use to see a medical provider immediately or call the DHSS 24/7 Crisis Services Helpline to be connected to addiction treatment options. In New Castle County, the number is 1-800-652-2929. In Kent and Sussex counties, the number is 1-800-345-6785.

"As a physician, I have seen the toll that addiction takes on individuals and their families, and I have personally seen the effects of dangerous combinations with fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine," she said. "Even one use of an illicit drug can be lead to overdose and death, but the added presence of fentanyl dramatically increases those risks. We hope that those affected will talk with a provider to help individuals get connected to treatment for this disease."

"Too many times, our police officers and other first responders see firsthand the dangers of fentanyl-related overdoses," Department of Safety and Homeland Security Secretary Robert Coupe said. "That's why we encourage anyone who is using or suffering from addiction to call for help or to ask a police officer, a medical professional, or another first responder for help. Our first priority is to save lives."

Individuals and families can visit DHSS' website, www.HelpIsHereDE.com, for addiction treatment and recovery services in Delaware and nearby states. Someone who sees another person overdosing should call 911. 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.

"We know that 80 percent of people who are addicted to opioids started with prescription painkillers," said Division of Public Health Director Dr. Karyl Rattay. "The safest course is to avoid prescription painkillers altogether or to use them at the lowest possible dose for the shortest period of time. Opioids become less effective over time, so people may feel compelled to take higher doses to get the same results or even seek out illegal sources such as heroin. For those in the throes of addiction, please seek help through your primary care doctor, another medical professional or directly through an addiction treatment center. Addiction can be treated and people do live fulfilling lives in long-term recovery."

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