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Overdose deaths fell 1.8% last year. What it means

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The fight against the opioid epidemic has been long and difficult. From the proliferation of fentanyl to the recent addition of the animal tranquilizer xylazine to the drug supply, advocates, doctors and public health officials in Delaware have faced numerous challenges in reducing the harm caused by addiction nationwide.

But new data from the state's Division of Forensic Science offers a sign of hope: For the first time in a decade, the number of confirmed overdose deaths in Delaware fell from one year to the next.

The results released Thursday showed that 527 Delawareans died from accidental drug overdoses in 2023, excluding those that were not reported or autopsied. This is a decrease of 1.8% compared to the previous year.

“No number of drug deaths is acceptable, but the slight decrease is encouraging,” said Joanna Champney, director of Delaware's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Division. “I think this shows that we are on the right track with our efforts.”

BACKGROUND: The Opioid Addiction Crisis: How It Started, Who's Involved, and What Else You Need to Know

How the state is reducing overdose deaths

Champney attributed the decline in deaths to the state's comprehensive efforts and community partnerships. Delaware's approach to combating addiction falls into six categories:

  • Reducing stigma
  • increasing screening for opioid use disorder
  • Educate healthcare professionals about medication-assisted treatments such as Suboxone
  • Distribution of the overdose-reversing drug Narcan
  • Expanding public relations on the streets
  • Improving the state's addiction treatment system

Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, chair of the Delaware Behavioral Health Consortium and co-chair of the Prescription Opioid Settlement Distribution Commission, said reducing fatal overdoses “speaks volumes” about the collaboration between various groups and state agencies toward the public goal of combating addiction.

Both Champney and Hall-Long said there was no single campaign or method that made the difference. Instead, it is the diversity of partnerships and strategies that has contributed to a reduction in overdose deaths.

Champney said expanding outreach, information and service methods is particularly important as the state continues to see rising overdose deaths among Black and Hispanic residents. She said the state is increasing its focus on culturally specific services and responses, including another round of mini-grants for the Health Equity Advancement Project.

What's next?

Additional demographic data on drug overdoses – including the drugs involved and the race, age and country of residence of the deceased person – will soon be published in the Division of Forensic Sciences' annual report. The report is expected to be published in mid to late April.

Once the new data is released, the state and other groups focused on reducing overdoses can better use it to focus their efforts where they are needed most.

“We still have so much work to do, but these coordinated strategies are helping us gradually bring the numbers down,” Champney said. “So we hope that we will see even greater cuts in the coming years and we will not stop working until that number reaches zero.”

MORE: The number of fatal overdoses in Delaware appears to be declining, but troubling new trends are emerging

How to find help

  • Delaware Hope Line: 833-9-HOPEDE for free 24/7 counseling, coaching and support, as well as links to mental health, addiction and crisis services. Resources can also be found on the Help is Here website.
  • suicide and Crisis lifeline: 988
  • SAMHSA National Helpline: 800-662-HELP (4357) for free, 24-hour referral services for substance abuse disorder treatment. Treatment service locators are also available online at findtreatment.samhsa.gov or by text message by texting your zip code to 435748.

Send story tips or ideas to Hannah Edelman at [email protected]. For more reports, follow them on X below @h_edelman.