State gathers data on drug overdose deaths

WILMINGTON — Fatal substance abuse reaches all walks of life, but some are more likely than others according to a report released this week.

Delaware’s 343 drug overdose deaths in 2017, roughly 67 percent involved males, according to the Drug Overdose Mortality Surveillance Report.

About 76 percent of the victims overall were between age 25 and 54.

Approximately 79 percent were non-Hispanic white, 59 percent never married and 55 percent had a high school diploma or General Educational Development.

On Wednesday,the Delaware Division of Public Health released a 56-page report detailing demographics determined through a dozen multi-agency datasets, according to a news release. The full report is online at

“The report addresses the types of drugs used; if, how, and when the decedents interacted with Delaware health systems; and a description of key statewide efforts to address the drug overdose and substance use crisis,” according to the DPH.

Other key findings included:

• The top two occupational industries among males who died of drug overdoses were construction (36 percent) and the install, maintain, and repair industry (9.1 percent; includes mechanics, HVAC repair, engine repair, maintenance, and other occupations). The top two occupational industries among females were food service (14.7 percent) and office support (12.8 percent); however, 33 percent were not employed.

• Opioids, a class of drugs that includes heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and others, accounted for the majority of drug overdose deaths (84 percent). Synthetic opioids other than methadone (e.g. fentanyl, tramadol, etc.) were responsible for the highest mortality rates among opioid drug overdose deaths (age-adjusted rate: 21.9 deaths per 100,000 population).

• Eighty-one percent, or four out of five, persons who died of a drug overdose in 2017 interacted with a Delaware health system in the year prior to their deaths.

Delaware currently ranks fifth-highest among drug overdose mortality rates in the nation.

“Too many Delaware families are impacted by the opioid crisis,” Governor John Carney said.

“We are working across agencies to address this epidemic, and the data from this report will help us make informed decisions that guide us in developing effective interventions — with the ultimate goal of saving more lives.”

Engaging substance abusers

State officials say quantifying this information is critical as it helps those addressing the drug epidemic in Delaware to identify critical moments to engage those with substance use disorder into treatment.

“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 Lieutenant Governor 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.”

According the Delaware Health and Social Services Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker, a practicing family physician, “There is no question that we have more work to do up and down our state to reduce the toll that the opioid epidemic has taken on thousands of people in our state and their families.”

DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay presented the report’s key findings at a new conference.

“Another key facet of this report is that through this historical look at data, we were able to determine that as a state we were on the right track with many of our current and ongoing initiatives,” she said.

“It will help us continue to focus our efforts and allow us to move forward in a thoughtful and meaningful way.”

Those seeking substance use or mental health resources are encouraged to visit or call the 24/7 Crisis Services Hotline. In New Castle, call 1-800-652-2929. In Kent and Sussex counties, call 1-800-345-6785.

Health system contacts

The Drug Overdose Mortality Surveillance Report for 2017 detailed decedents health system interactions:

• Emergency Department: 54.2 percent visited a Delaware ED in the year prior to their death and 70 percent visited the ED within two years prior to their death. Not all visits in the year prior to death were related to the decedents’ drug use. In the year prior to their death, 23 percent of drug overdose decedents who had visited the ED had mental-health related diagnoses, 10 percent of decedents had a previous drug overdose ED visit, and 6.7 percent had a pain diagnosis related to their ED visit.

Drug overdose and pain diagnoses were more often recorded among females than males.

• Emergency Medical Services: 43.1 percent of the decedents had a history of an EMS encounter not related to the death event in the year before their death. Twenty-three (6.7 percent) drug overdose decedents had an EMS encounter for a non-fatal drug overdose. Naloxone was administered to 39.1 percent of those decedents with a non-fatal overdose EMS encounter.

• Prescription Monitoring Program: Among drug overdose decedents, 164 (47.8 percent) had a prescription in the PMP in the year prior to death. There were 23.6 percent of Delaware drug overdose decedents who had a prescription for an opioid such as oxycodone, codeine or morphine in the PMP in the year prior to their death. Twenty-two percent had a prescription for a benzodiazepine (often used to treat seizures or anxiety). Twelve percent of decedents had prescriptions for both in the PMP in the year prior to their deaths – but the prescriptions did not necessarily overlap.

• Department of Correction: 25 percent of opioid drug overdose decedents were released from incarceration within one year prior to death. There were 103 drug overdose decedents (30 percent) who were on probation and parole in the year that preceded their deaths; 76 (22.2 percent) of decedents were on probation and parole at the time of death.

Nearly half of the 343 drug overdose decedents (45.8 percent) had a record of a misdemeanor, 32.7 percent had a record of a felony, 25.4 percent violated parole, and just 20.4 percent had drug-related offenses.

• Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health: Within the year prior to death, 26.8 percent received DSAMH services. Approximately 10 percent of decedents were receiving services from DSAMH at the time of death. Of decedents who had received services, 25.3 percent were considered homeless.

• Hospitalizations: Approximately 12 percent of drug overdose decedents were hospitalized in the year prior to their deaths. Nearly 10 percent of drug overdose decedents were hospitalized with a diagnosis of a mental, behavioral, or neurodevelopmental disorder.

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