Delaware drug overdose deaths last year could surpass 2018's record



Brittany Horn - Delaware Online


After 2018's record number of fatal drug overdoses, Delaware health officials hoped there was only good news from there. 

But drug overdose numbers continued to climb in 2019, staying on pace with – and at times, outpacing – the previous year, Delaware's deadliest on record.

The total came in at 400 deaths, about one every 22 hours across the state.

And it could get worse.

Though final numbers are not yet available for 2019, preliminary tallies from the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security – which includes the state Medical Examiner's Office which is responsible for performing autopsies statewide – show it'll be close, if not higher, than last year.


The state was able to provide confirmed drug overdose totals through August 2019, which reflect the dips and surges as compared to 2018. Here's how the year broke down.


The beginning of 2019 was hopeful


Despite a spike in January for drug overdose deaths, the first few months of 2019 showed a slight decrease in fatalities.

For the months of February, March and April, the totals trended downward. 

This came as state health officials pushed new initiatives and local organizations tried new forms of outreach. The Bridge Clinic, which is supposed to provide mobile outreach to people in crisis, took shape. 


Nonprofits like Brandywine Counseling and Community Services provided people in active drug use with fentanyl testing strips to make users aware of the potency of their drugs.

And for a bit, the results were positive.


Then came the spike


The summer months were hot for drug overdose deaths, with double digit increases for nearly a three-month span, according to the state data.

The increases weren't just seen in one county either. 

Sussex spiked in June. Then, in July, they jumped in Kent.


And in August, the spike returned downstate.

The Behavioral Health Consortium pushed outreach of the overdose-reversing medication naloxone statewide, getting it into the hands of dozens who likely wouldn't seek it from a state-sponsored outlet.


Specifically, the team targeted "hot spot" areas throughout Delaware that recorded the highest number of overdoses that week. It took them all over, with people readily accepting the free naloxone – paid for either by state grants or straight out of emergency room Dr. Sandy Gibney's pocket.


How soon will we know?


Drug overdose deaths have affected the offices of medical examiners nationwide, causing backlogs from the sheer number of people dying, as well as the lengthy review process for toxicology reports.

In order to know what caused someone's death, these steps are incredibly important – especially when trying to identify what drugs are driving Delaware's fatality toll. 

It will likely be a few months before final numbers are released by the state. Only deaths through August were confirmed, with September, October, November and December still under review.


Halfway through December alone, there were 15 suspected deaths – nearly one for every day that had passed.

And behind each death is the story of a person lost to the disease of addiction, and a staggering number of family and friends who struggle to bear the weight of grief and loss.

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