Illicit fentanyl continues to accelerate overdoses in Delaware.
Last year Delaware had a record 447 drug overdose deaths. That number has been steadily rising for years giving the First State the second highest overdose death rate in the nation.
More than 80 percent of those deaths last year were caused by fentanyl, according to the state Division of Forensic Science annual report. That percentage has gone up over the years along with the total number of deaths.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid many times more potent than heroin and potentially fatal even with small doses.
Patrick Trainor is a Supervisory Special Agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). He says illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine can often be laced with fentanyl, but the main worry is fake prescription pills.
“The packaging method that is of most concern to us now are the counterfeit tablets, and there’s been a huge issue with counterfeit pharmaceuticals that are made to look like popular pharmaceuticals that actually are counterfeit and contain fentanyl,” said Trainor.
There’ve been multiple large scale federal drug busts in the First State in recent years involving fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl.
A Claymont man was convicted for selling more than 1,000 of the fake, lethal pills to an undercover DEA officer last year. Law enforcement also seized what Delaware officials call the largest amount of drugs confiscated in the state in recent memory when two Mexican nationals in the U.S. illegally were arrested after selling the counterfeit pills to the DEA at a Royal Farms in New Castle County in 2019.
Recently a former Delaware doctor was found guilty of unlawful distribution of drugs after being accused of selling illicit substances, including fentanyl, out of his Milford internal medicine practice.
Trainor calls illicit fentanyl the single factor driving the nation’s overdose death rate and the DEA’s top enforcement priority.
“In the group that I serve in right now, we recently got eight kilograms of fentanyl and 25,000 tablets just very recently and cases like that happen all across our office,” he said.
Trainor says fentanyl is manufactured in China and in Mexico and then smuggled across the U.S. southern border.
He says criminal organizations associated with Mexican drug cartels and based out of Philadelphia and Baltimore are the main suppliers of fentanyl into Delaware.
The latest DEA Philadelphia Field Division report shows the percentage of fentanyl tripled between 2017 and 2018 to make up more than 16 percent of all illicit opioids seized in Delaware.