Delaware’s overdose victims described in detail

Officials applaud report as a tool to fight opioid addiction
August 19, 2019

A new study into Delawareans who overdose on drugs shows that most are white men, between the ages of 25 and 54, who have never been married and have a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Using data through 2017, officials say the 50-page report is a great blueprint for healthcare workers as they address the drug epidemic in Delaware.

“I am thrilled that so many state agencies were able to pull together and provide critical data related to behavioral health for this report,” said Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, who chairs Delaware’s Behavioral Health Consortium. “This was one of the BHC’s goals, and the results will allow us to focus our efforts, reduce stigma around the disease of addiction and save lives.”

Delaware's Department of Health and Social Services, Division of Public Health, Department of Correction and the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program were among the state agencies which provided data for the report – an analysis of who is overdosing broken down by age, sex, ethnicity, marital status and even occupation. The report shows those who overdosed were mostly:

• men, 67 percent

• ages 25-54, 76 percent

• non-Hispanic white, 79 percent

• never married, 59 percent

• high school diploma or equivalent, 55 percent

About half of the men worked in construction and the repair industry, and about a third of the women worked in the food service industry and office support. Another third were not employed.

Four out of five of the 343 total who died of overdose in 2017 had interacted with the Delaware health system the year before they died, the report states.

In Sussex County, there were 64 drug overdose deaths with about 84 percent from opioids – a percentage comparable to the state average.

According to the report, the opioid crisis is evolving. In 2009, nearly all Delaware overdose deaths involved prescription opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. Now, the report states, illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are the major drivers of overdose deaths, contributing to 72 percent of the 400 deaths in 2018.

The report also states that although opioid prescribing rates decreased 25 percent from 2013-17, Delaware is ranked 18th in the nation for opioid prescribing, and ranked even higher for long-lasting, high doses.

“[It] has the less than enviable distinction of being the highest-prescribing state for high doses of opioids and long-acting opioids,” the report states.

The number of people with opioid use disorder in Delaware nearly doubled from 6,000 in 2006 to 11,000 in 2017, and the rate of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome among infants – a condition in which babies are born drug dependent – has more than doubled in Delaware over the past decade, the report states.

But the report notes that the drug culture is evolving. While the opioid epidemic is a crisis of the moment, the report states, other drugs such as methamphetamine, cocaine, and benzodiazepines, often in combination with opioids, are emerging as causes of substance abuse, misuse and death in other states.

Moving forward, the report states, agencies and healthcare facilities are making a difference. The report serves as a benchmark and foundation for the state to refer to as it continues to give those struggling with substance use disorder hope for the future, the report reads.

“This report provides Delaware with the first in-depth exploration of Delawareans lost to the drug epidemic. Through the integration of multiple state agency datasets, we now have a better understanding of those who died of a drug overdose and their interactions with Delaware health systems during the time that preceded their deaths,” the report states. “We can use this knowledge to support a comprehensive, coordinated, data-driven, and sustainable approach.”