Opioid epidemic is worsened by COVID-19 pandemic

Delaware Goes Purple effort raises awareness about ongoing substance-abuse crisis
October 27, 2020

Almost lost in the hype surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is the ongoing opioid overdose death epidemic.

Numbers in Delaware are increasing as the state ranks second in overdose deaths per capita in the United States, said Peggy Geisler, executive director of Sussex County Health Coalition, during Sussex County Council's Oct. 20 meeting.

She said there has been a 60 percent growth in overdose deaths in Delaware, compared to a 30 percent increase nationwide. “It's still a very critical issue,” she said.

In 2019, 431 people died from drug overdoses, up from 401 in 2018. Deaths have risen every year since 2013 when 187 fatalities were reported by the Delaware Division of Forensic Science. Nearly 90 percent are opioid overdoses, and in nearly 80 percent of deaths, fentanyl was present.

Geisler said October is set aside for Delaware Goes Purple to focus attention on the opioid crisis through events, and an education and awareness campaign. “We let communities plan their own events, and this year we provided virtual tool kits and virtual anti-drug pledge cards,” she said.

Sussex County supports the effort each year with $5,000 from its county-wide youth grant fund.

Geisler said the coalition facilitates the project with help from various partners including Beebe Healthcare in Lewes, Bayhealth in Milford, and TidalHealth Nanticoke in Seaford. Last year, she said, with a $75,000 budget, 150,000 residents were reached by the campaign. Mini-grants are awarded to programs supporting youth.

“There is no shortage of people suffering from this epidemic, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic,” Geisler said.

For more information, go to, and for assistance relating to substance abuse, go to Go to for more information on the Sussex County Health Coalition.

For a detailed U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency report on Delaware, go to:


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