Overdose deaths up: Delaware sets another record in 2021

This photo provided by the U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah and introduced as evidence at the Aaron Shamo trial shows fentanyl-laced fake oxycodone pills collected during the investigation. (U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah via AP)

This photo provided by the U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah and introduced as evidence at the Aaron Shamo trial shows fentanyl-laced fake oxycodone pills collected during the investigation. (U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah via AP)

Delaware’s 515 overdose deaths in 2021 set a record in the state’s history. The death toll is a 15% increase over 2020’s 447 deaths. More than 82% of the overdoses involved fentanyl, about on par with numbers from last year.

Health officials say the increase could be the result of “uncertainty” related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our worries about the impact that COVID-19 would have on Delawareans already struggling with substance use disorder appear to be borne out by the Division of Forensic Science report on overdose deaths,” said Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Molly Magarik.

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She pointed to services the state has made available to help anyone experiencing a crisis. The state’s Hope Line is available 24/7 to direct callers to resources and information that could help. That includes support from clinicians and peer specialists, as well as crisis assistance.

The Hope Line can be reached at 1-833-9-HOPE-DE, or by texting DEHOPE to 55753. Help is also available online at HelpIsHereDE.com.

“At DHSS, we will continue to prioritize such harm-reduction strategies as training more loved ones to use Narcan, the medication that can reverse an opioid overdose, and to help more people in getting connected to the treatment they need to begin their recovery,” Magarik said.

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Numbers from the Division of Forensic Science show a significant increase in overdose deaths involving cocaine. The 221 cocaine-related deaths is an increase of nearly 9 percentage points over 2020.

The age category with the highest number of deaths was 31 to 40 years old. Those 144 deaths accounted for 28% of all overdose deaths last year. Nearly half of those who died were between the ages of 41 to 60. Those who were ages 21 to 30 account for nearly 12% of the state’s overdose deaths, and just two people ages 11 to 20 died of an overdose, representing 0.4% of the total number of deaths.

“The COVID-19 pandemic increased stress in people’s lives, negatively impacted mental health, and isolated people from services,” said Joanna Champney, director of the state’s Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. “Coupled with the availability of illegal fentanyl, this created a very dangerous situation.”

She urged those in active substance use to reach out to a medical provider or the Hope Line to discuss treatment options.

“For people who are uninsured or underinsured, the state will fund their treatment services,” Champney said. “We’re also funding mobile treatment services and we have transportation services available. We want to reduce as many barriers to health care as possible.”

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