Deaths linked to the synthetic opioid fentanyl rose 180 percent between 2012 and 2015, and fentanyl-related deaths this year are up 114 percent over 2015.

There were 90 fentanyl-related deaths in Delaware in 2016, of which 76 were men and 14 were women. Most of the fatal overdoses were spread across Sussex County with 15 deaths, New Castle County with 17 deaths, and Kent County with 10 deaths.

One primary reason for the increase is because fentanyl is often used as an adulterant or substitute for heroin. According to Jill Fredel, Director of Communications for the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, fentanyl is a lot more dangerous, though.

“[Fentanyl] is 50 times more toxic than heroin,” she said. “We always say ‘any injection of heroin may be your last,’ and when you add fentanyl to that, it’s almost a death sentence.”

According to a report released in May by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Kent and Sussex county experienced an increase of almost 89 percent in fentanyl-related deaths between 2013 and 2014, and New Castle county saw a 130 percent increase in fentanyl-related deaths between 2014 and 2015.

Fredel said that the biggest impediment for the Delaware Department of Health is the way society perceives and approaches addiction.

“it’s a brain disease,” she said. “Your brain is saying ‘I need this drug. I don’t need treatment. I need this drug.’”

“It’s a brain disease that has a heavy occurrence of relapse,” Fredel said. “When people do relapse, it’s about starting that recovery process anew. When people get cancer and their cancer comes back, they’re not a failure. It should be the same thing with addiction.”

There are obstacles but legislators have taken steps to understand the problem. Senate Bill 174, which passed in the state Senate last January, and the House of Representatives last March created the Drug Overdose Fatality Review Commission to look into the circumstances surrounding overdose-related deaths to fentanyl, among other legal and illicit opioids. The commission also provided recommendations on preventing future deaths from opioid overdoses.

Although heroin abuse is the biggest threat in Delaware, the growing demand and access to illicit and prescription drugs are also concerning, the DEA’s report stated.

A reason heroin makes its way into Delaware is the… (continue reading)