Report: 400 will die of overdoses in Delaware this year

DOVER — More than 1,000 individuals have fatally overdosed in Delaware since the start of 2015, and while the state has made progress in fighting addiction, the opioid crisis is far from over.

After seeing 345 overdose deaths last year, Delaware is on pace to surpass 400 in 2018, the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services said.

On Wednesday the Department of Justice released its annual report on the drug epidemic plaguing the state, highlighting what has been done and what is still needed.

Despite efforts to place stricter guidelines around dispensing opioids, provide to law enforcement medication that counteracts the effects of an overdose and require insurance companies to provide more coverage for drug addicts, plenty of obstacles remain, officials said.

“Any doubt as to the scope of Delaware’s opioid crisis was eliminated in September when the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services disclosed that a record-setting 39 Delawareans had died from drug overdoses in August,” the report states. “This was not only a record for Delaware, but the death toll was nearly one and one half times the next deadliest month since Delaware began keeping overdose fatality statistics — and the next deadliest month was just last April.

“These shocking monthly numbers come on the heels of annual fatality statistics suggesting that deaths from drug overdoses in Delaware continue to steadily rise.”

The number of overdose deaths in the First State has climbed every year since the Department of Justice began issuing reports in 2015, and only four states saw a greater jump from 2015 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report released Wednesday notes there may have been substantially more deaths if not for the expansion of the overdose-reversing medication naloxone, also known as Narcan.

The Department of Justice and the nonprofit atTAcK addiction said 31 of the state’s 49 police agencies have naloxone, and there are documented cases of it saving lives.

But even with that medication, the state’s opioid overdose rate jumped by 105 percent from July 2016 to September 2017 — three times the average for the 16 states with high prevalence of overdose mortality participating in a CDC study.

Matt Denn

“It is the public health crisis of our generation,” Attorney General Matt Denn said of the epidemic, which President Donald Trump declared a public health emergency one year ago.

The agency’s findings single out a few key areas where improvement is necessary and can save lives: expanding sober living and long-term residential treatment facilities, opening a recovery high school, removing insurance barriers to treatment and creating an opioid tax.

Perhaps the most critical of those is adding space for addicts to receive treatment, especially programs that last longer than 30 days.

“The state has added no long-term residential treatment slots in the last four years, and funded fewer than 30 sober living slots over the same period of time,” the report says. “There remain just over 200 treatment beds (none of them for long term residential treatment) to help over 11,000 Delawareans believed to be struggling with substance use disorder. Delaware also has no programs targeted specifically at high school age students with substance use disorder.”

Mr. Denn last year requested the state use $4 million to incentivize economic development around long-term treatment and also expend funding for a recovery high school that could hold 25 students. Neither proposal was included in the final budget passed by lawmakers.

Many people receive treatment but are released just a few weeks later and then relapse, the attorney general said. Additional treatment beds, sober living sites and a recovery high school could help prevent that.

The department was also unsuccessful this year in getting legislators to make it easier for doctors to prescribe non-opioid pain management options to patients and to pass an additional fee on opioids.

Lawmakers did approve a bill that aims to popularize other methods of treating back pain, but it falls short of what the agency requested. A measure creating an opioid fee of 1 cent per morphine milligram equivalent, paid by manufacturers, stalled in the General Assembly due to objections from manufacturers and worries of logistical issues raised by several state agencies.

Officials and advocates remain hopeful they can stem the time and save lives.

“I want to be clear that as a state, Delaware has been very progressive and has instituted many first in the nation programs and laws,” atTAcK Addiction board member David Humes said in a statement. “But we also know that Delaware’s addiction and overdose death problem continues to escalate.

“We are in agreement with the Attorney General’s report that there are items that still need attention.”

Congress last month passed legislation allocating $3.78 million for opioid prevention and research.

 

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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