Overdose deaths in Delaware reached new monthly high in May

Delaware public health officials announced a new monthly high total of deaths from suspected overdoses during May and said they fear the vast majority of the deaths will be connected to fentanyl, a powerful synthetic pain reliever that is 50-100 times more potent than morphine, or to the increasing use of cocaine, a powerfully addictive stimulant.

In 2021, when a record 515 people died in Delaware from overdoses, more than 80% of the deaths involved fentanyl and more than 45% involved cocaine.

In May 2022, 42 people died from suspected overdoses in Delaware, according to the Delaware Division of Forensic Science. That surpassed the previous monthly high total set in August 2018 and tied in May 2020, of 39 deaths. In May 2022, preliminary totals show that 25 of the 42 deaths involved people in New Castle County, 12 in Sussex County and five in Kent County.

Through May 31, 159 people have died from suspected overdoses in Delaware, which is about the same rate as 2021.

“We know that more families and friends have Narcan at home or with them to try to reverse opioid overdoses, but, sadly, that cannot prevent every heartbreaking overdose death,” said DHSS Secretary Molly Magarik. “We urge families to convince their loved ones to get connected to treatment resources and services. Medical providers can make that referral or family members can drop by one of our Bridge Clinics to talk with trained counselors.”

Delawareans struggling with substance use disorder also can call DHSS’ Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health’s 24/7 Delaware Hope Line – a single point of contact where callers can connect to a variety of resources and information, including support from clinicians and peer specialists plus crisis assistance. For support, Delawareans can:

  • Drop by DHSS’ Bridge Clinics for in-person support, including access to naloxone (see locations and hours at the bottom of this release).
  • Reach the free Delaware Hope Line at 1-833-9-HOPEDE or 1-833-946-7333.
  • Get behavioral health tips and reminders by texting DEHOPE to 55753.
  • Search for treatment services and resources in Delaware or nearby states at DHSS’ one-stop website, HelpIsHereDE.com.

Joanna Champney, director of the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH), emphasized that there is no wrong door for accessing treatment. She encourages individuals who need help to call or stop by one of the Bridge Clinics, located in each county. “Our Bridge Clinics greet walk-ins with dignity and no judgment,” Champney said. “Whether someone just needs to talk about their options or they’re ready for treatment, we can help you.”

Champney also pointed to DSAMH’s expansion of clinical services to people who are justice-involved, building on the Division’s “no wrong door” approach to offering substance use disorder treatment. “Through our partnership with the Delaware State Police, we’ve put clinicians in multiple police troop locations statewide so we can help people pre-arrest who have had a brush with the law,” she said. “We know that substance use disorders often are the driver for illegal behavior, so the idea is to treat the problem. We’re seeing very high success rates of connecting people to treatment through this program.”

The increase in deaths from suspected overdoses during May 2022 follows another increase in overdose deaths for all of 2021. In its annual report for 2021, the Division of Forensic Science (DFS) reported 515 overdose deaths, an increase of more than 15% over 2020. The 515 deaths by county:

  • New Castle County: 334
  • Sussex County: 94
  • Kent County: 87

Of the 515 total deaths, DFS reported that 425 (82.5%) involved fentanyl, a decline of seven-tenths of a percentage point from 2020, and 221 involved cocaine, an increase of almost 9 percentage points from 2020.

Division of Public Health Director Dr. Kary Rattay urged those in active use of any illicit substances to get Narcan through DHSS’ mail-order Next Distro program, one of DSAMH’s Bridge Clinics, at a participating pharmacy – where no prescription is required – or at a Narcan training.

“This increased loss of life is heartbreaking,” Dr. Rattay said. “It is important for the public to know that fentanyl is being added to multiple types of illicit substances and is seen more commonly with amphetamines like cocaine. We know that Narcan can and does save lives, so we urge anyone who is actively using any illicit substances, as well as family and friends, to have Narcan on hand and be trained on how to use the medication. Additionally, we encourage Delawareans to download OpiRescue Delaware, a smartphone app that provides life-saving step-by-step instructions on how to respond to an overdose, including how to administer Narcan.”

In addition, under Delaware’s 911/Good Samaritan Law, people who call 9-1-1 to report an overdose and the person in medical distress cannot be arrested for low-level drug crimes.

To find Narcan training or distribution events, or a participating pharmacy, go to HelpIsHereDE.com, and click on the overdose prevention tab. The Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health’s Bridge Clinic locations and hours:

DSAMH Central Office
14 Central Ave.
New Castle, DE 19720

New Castle County Hope Center
365 Airport Road
New Castle, DE 19720
Mon-Fri: 8:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Sat-Sun: 8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.

James W. Williams State Service Center
805 River Road, Third Floor
Dover, DE 19901
Mon-Fri: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

Thurman Adams State Service Center
546 S. Bedford St.
Georgetown, DE 19947
Mon-Fri: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

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