5 things Delaware found by examining fatal overdoses
Nearly three years after state officials said they would review fatal drug overdoses and look for patterns, the Delaware Drug Overdose Fatality Review Commission has released its first report.
The 23-page document offers a snapshot into the lives of those we've lost in the drug epidemic, which claimed a record 400 people last year.
Within it come stories of death after prison, deaths alone in homes and deaths often experienced without the availability of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone.
The commission struggled to begin its work, battling data-sharing issues that slowed the release of medical records.
In addition to the findings, the report also offers recommendations on where the state needs to go next.
Here are five things you need to know from the commission's report, which closely examined 56 overdose fatalities that occurred between July and December 2018.
Someone else was present in nearly 80 percent of the cases
Despite Delaware having a Good Samaritan Law that allows a person to report an overdose without fear of being arrested, charged or prosecuted for using themselves, people still aren't calling 911 – or at least not right away.
The law largely protects anyone reporting, so long as the amount of drugs in a home or location doesn't meet the threshold for a drug-dealing operation.
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The data also showed that more outreach is needed to remind people not to use alone and to always have the overdose-reversing medication naloxone and on hand.
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Half of those who fatally overdosed had survived a previous overdose
That number is actually lower than what health officials know to be true, according to the report, as this statistic only accounts for people seen in emergency rooms.
It doesn't account for people who were treated by paramedics and then refused care or those cases where naloxone was used to revive someone and they never sought further medical care.
Health officials want a person who has experienced an overdose to always seek further care, but data shows that doesn't happen.
The reason they recommend this is because depending on the strength of drugs a person is using, the naloxone can wear off and a person can overdose again.
For people coming out of prison, the risk of fatally overdosing within the first year of release is staggeringly high
Though the sample size was small for this specific statistic, the commission found that 50 percent of those people who were housed in the Delaware Department of Correction and whose release date could be confirmed fatally overdosed within three months of release.
That number grew to 75 percent when the time period extended to a full year.
The commission recommended that the DOC make injectable naltrexone, which blocks the effects of opioids and reduces cravings, available to every eligible inmate numerous times prior to their release.
They followed up with a second recommendation that naloxone be made available to every person re-entering society after incarceration.
More than half of people who fatally overdosed were seen in an emergency room in the three months prior to their deaths
This statistic drives home the major concern of state officials: There are many opportunities for intervention and in most cases, the state is missing them.
This finding places further pressure on emergency departments and first responders to identify people struggling with substance use disorder, get them to a medical provider for further care and then connect them with medication-assisted treatment and other options.
More than 75 percent of people who fatally overdosed weren't using medication-assisted treatment
For years, medication-assisted treatment like methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone (all more broadly referred to as MAT) have been considered the gold standard in treating drug addiction.
Efforts to make these medications available nationally has lagged. And critics say it just replaces one drug with another.
The commission recommended that naloxone be provided to everyone in medically assisted treatment, as well.
Here's a copy of the full report:
DELAWARE'S DRUG EPIDEMIC
Contact Brittany Horn at (302) 324-2771 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @brittanyhorn.