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New state data points to need for increased opioid abuse screening in medical settings

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The state has released another study on overdose deaths occurring in Delaware in recent years. The latest data points to missed opportunities for substance abuse intervention. 

12 state agencies coordinated on the new report to examine the more than 340 Delaware overdose deaths in 2017. The data shows about four in five Delawareans who died of an overdose that year had interacted with a Delaware health system in the year prior to their death.

Erin Booker is the Director of Behavioral Health for Christiana Care Health System. She says all patients at Christiana Care are now screened for opioid withdrawal. 

“We screen 90 year olds. We screen 18 year olds. We screen 14 year olds,” said Booker. “Because it doesn’t matter what your age is. That is not a deciding factor in whether or not you are an addict, and what we know is if we ask the question you’re much more likely to tell us.” 

Nearly half of the decedents in the study were treated by EMS or made a trip to an emergency department the year prior to their death, according to the data. 

Delaware has been working to standardize its first responder protocol and emergency department resources to treat overdoses statewide since passing its overdose system of care law last year. 

Dr. Sandra Gibney is an Emergency Medical Physician at St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington, and she sits on Delaware’s Behavioral Health Consortium. She says the first step is for EMS to try to get an overdose patient to agree to go to the hospital to receive treatment. 

“And if they are willing to come to a hospital, then we have a peer specialist in place to try to engage them in treatment or the actual ED provider can offer medication assisted treatment,” said Gibney. 

The study found the city of Wilmington to have the state’s highest overdose rate with a crude rate of 67.7 overdoses deaths per 100,000 residents.

Gibney says people suspected of having substance abuse disorder who do not agree to go to St. Francis for treatment get a satchel from EMS with two doses of the opioid overdose reversal medication Narcan and information about addiction treatment.

She says all nine of Delaware’s hospitals now employ peer mentors in their emergency departments and can prescribe buprenorphine to treat substance abuse disorder.

The report is the second state-run study on overdoses to come out this summer. Delaware’s newly-formed overdose commission released its first report in June studying 2018 overdoses.

Delaware currently has the fifth highest overdose rate in the nation.

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