Three suspected heroin overdose deaths within five days in Sussex County have prompted warnings after officials say similar packets of drugs were found at the scene.
The division is testing the substances involved, and the stamp is not being identified to prevent people in active use from seeking it, said Jill Fredel, communication director for the Department of Health and Social Services.
In the wake of three Sussex County deaths March 9-13, Fredel said, health and public safety officials are urging heroin users or those using other opioids and their families to seek immediate treatment and have the overdose-reversing medication naloxone on hand.
As of March 13, the Division of Forensic Science has reported a total of 50 suspected overdose deaths in Delaware for 2019. Preliminary estimates for 2018 indicate 419 overdose deaths across the state, an increase of 21 percent from the 2017 total of 345 deaths, Fredel said.
“While the Division of Forensic Science determines the particular chemical make-up of the substances involved in these deaths, it is critical that people be aware of the dangers,” Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker said.
In 2018, first responders administered 3,728 doses of naloxone, compared with 2,861 doses in 2017 – a 30 percent increase. In 2017, the Division of Forensic Science confirmed the presence of fentanyl in 210 of the 345 total fatal overdoses. Fentanyl is a synthetic painkiller, which affects the central nervous system and brain, and is up to 50 times more potent than heroin. In 2016, fentanyl was confirmed in 109 of the 308 total overdose deaths. The 2018 statistics are expected to be released later this year.
Drug dealers sell fentanyl in a variety of ways, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. They lace cocaine or heroin with fentanyl, and they press fentanyl into pills and pass them off as OxyContin, according to officials.