FACT CHECK: Do 61 Percent Of Overdose Deaths In Delaware Involve Fentanyl?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Reporter

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons claimed on Twitter that 61 percent of the overdose deaths in his state involved the drug fentanyl.

In DE, 61% of deaths related to overdoses involved fentanyl. I appreciate the Chinese government’s commitment to classify fentanyl as a controlled substance. It is a significant first step & I look forward to seeing our governments work further together to resolve this challenge.

— Senator Chris Coons (@ChrisCoons) April 29, 2019

“In DE, 61% of deaths related to overdoses involved fentanyl,” reads the April 29 tweet.

Verdict: True

In 2017, 345 people died from drug overdoses in Delaware, according to the state’s Division of Forensic Science. Of these, 210 – or 61 percent – involved fentanyl. After Coons made the claim, numbers for 2018 were published that showed 74 percent of overdose deaths in the state involved fentanyl.

Fact Check:

Illicit fentanyl is an extremely potent synthetic opioid. Primarily sourced from China and Mexico, it has fueled the opioid crisis currently gripping the country. (RELATED: Will More Americans Die From Drugs This Year Than Were Killed In The Entire Vietnam War?)

Coons’ tweet was part of a thread discussing his recent meeting with the vice chairman of China’s National Narcotics Control Commission. Weeks earlier, the Chinese government announced that it would further regulate the manufacture of fentanyl.

Coons’ state of Delaware has been particularly hard hit by the drug crisis, recording one of the highest overdose rates in the country. The number of deaths, many of them opioid-related, has increased every year since at least 2015.

In 2017, there were 345 overdose deaths in Delaware, of which 210, or 61 percent, involved fentanyl, according to Delaware’s Division of Forensic Science. There were 308 overdose deaths in 2016, of which 109 were fentanyl-related.

Figures for 2018 were released after Coons made the claim, with 400 overdose deaths that year, 74 percent of which involved fentanyl.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also track yearly overdose deaths by state. Although its 2017 data does not specify how many overdose deaths involved fentanyl, it does show that 178 out of 338 overdose deaths, or 53 percent, involved some sort of synthetic opioid (excluding methadone), of which fentanyl is a subset.

“Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin, and that really leads to these increased deaths that we’re seeing because more fentanyl is coming into our state,” Kara Odom Walker, secretary of the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), told WHYY. “It’s a huge challenge right now.”

The death toll might have been worse if not for the work of paramedics and police officers who administered the overdose-reversing medication naloxone 2,714 times to 1,906 people in 2017.

Delaware has taken a number of steps to address the crisis, including a statewide initiative to raise awareness regarding the addictive nature of opioids commonly prescribed by dentists and oral surgeons.

“Health officials in Delaware understand that this is the public health crisis of our generation, with thousands of Delawareans and their families continuing to be impacted by this chronic brain disease,” a DHSS spokesperson told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email.

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Reporter
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