Delaware sees first decrease in drug overdose deaths in a decade

While the overall rate dropped, overdoses and drug use are rising in Black and Hispanic/Latino communities across the state.

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An up-close photo of fentanyl test strips.

This May 10, 2018, file photo shows an arrangement of fentanyl test strips. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

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Wilmington resident Constance Johnson sits in atTAcK addiction’s Resource Center, putting together hygiene bags to give to people trying to get sober or in recovery. Her son Camille died of a fentanyl overdose in 2022.

“It’s important to me that we erase the stigma,” she said.

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New data from the state’s Division of Forensic Science brings a sign of hope in the fight against drug overdoses. The state has struggled to contain the spread of deadly narcotics, including fentanyl, cocaine and the animal tranquilizer xylazine.

Findings released Thursday by Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long and the Department of Health and Social Services show that overdose deaths have dropped for the first time in a decade from one year to the next. In 2023, there were 527 accidental drug overdose deaths, representing a 1.8% decrease compared to 2022.

“I was extremely pleased with the decrease in the number of fatal overdose deaths in our state,” Hall-Long said. “It is so meaningful to all the amazing partners and individuals and advocates, who’ve leaned-in with our state agencies, our commissions and consortiums for the first time to really see this difference. It really matters.”

The Forensic Science division reported 537 deaths in 2022 from drug and alcohol intoxication, an increase of about 4.3% from the 514 deaths in 2021.

Joanna Champney, director of the Delaware Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, said in a statement that their strategy has been to erase the stigma of addiction, encourage more healthcare providers to screen for substance abuse disorders, get people into treatment and make sure they are treated regardless of income or ability to pay. The state has also focused on ensuring Narcan, a medication that can reverse an overdose, is available throughout the state.


Jill Fredel sits on the board of atTAcK addiction and directs its communications. A former communications staffer for DHSS, she said one year is not enough for it to be seen as a trend and points out that  OD deaths are still four times as high as Delaware’s traffic fatalities.

More than 140,000 Delaware adults are living with a substance use disorder, the news release said. And some trends are going the wrong way. Delaware Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health statistics show rising fatal overdoses and drug use in Black and Hispanic/Latino communities.

“We are seeing this trend line whereas the state is reporting, there are more Black people who are fatally overdosing, and there are more Hispanic people who are dying from fatal overdoses,” Fredel said. “So we really have to look at that and see what’s happening. We need to do outreach to those communities as well. This is no longer a white suburban issue, it is fanning out into more communities.”

Hall-Long chairs the Delaware Behavioral Health Consortium and co-chairs the Prescription Opioid Settlement Distribution Commission with Attorney General Kathy Jennings. The Consortium aims to be a national model focused on addressing prevention, education, treatment and recovery for mental health, substance use, and co-occurring disorders. The commission is charged with distributing over $250 million in opioid settlement funds to expand access to substance use treatment services. It has distributed more than $10 million to date.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the following resources:

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  • Dial 211 to connect to essential resources throughout the state.
  • Delaware Hope Line offers free 24/7 counseling, coaching, and support, as well as links to mental health, addiction, and crisis services at 833-9-HOPEDE.
  • Help is Here Delaware provides resources for those struggling with mental illness and substance use disorder in Delaware.
  • National Suicide & Crisis Hotline is a lifeline with 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States. Just dial 988.

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