Delaware Public Media

Fentanyl suspected in string of six overdose deaths

Jul 28, 2017

Delaware saw a string of six overdose deaths over the past three weeks. Five were in New Castle County and one was in Sussex.

Law enforcement found what appeared to be heroin at the scene of each death.

 

Delaware Division of Public Health Director Karyl Rattay said investigators are testing the suspected drugs to see if they’re laced with fentanyl, which is 50 times more powerful than heroin.

 

“When we see these spikes, it’s an indicator that there are some really potent drugs out there. And often it’s the case fentanyl is included,” she said.

 

Rattay said fentanyl overdoses were almost non-existent in Delaware as recently as three years ago. But last year the drug accounted for nearly 40 percent -around 120- of the state’s 308 overdose deaths.

 

The good news, however, is there appears to be a slowdown in the overall amount of overdose deaths in the state.

 

The recent string of overdoses brings 2017's total deaths to 125, which is far less than half of last year, at more than halfway through the year.

 

"That’s still far too many," Rattay said. "The alarm was raised for us in 2009 when we had more overdose deaths than motor vehicle accidents. And at that time we had 100 overdose deaths the whole year. And that’s when we began to call it an epidemic."

 

Rattay said the slowdown in deaths this year could be attributed to the increased availability of the overdose-reversal drug naloxone.

 

It’s been used over 866 times so far this year, and will soon become more widely available in pharmacies across the state thanks to a new law signed this month.

 

Rattay recommends opiate addicts and their family keep naloxone on hand as this potent strain of heroin works its way through the community.

 

"This is also a great time for addicts to consider treatment," she said.