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Could improving research and awareness about fentanyl help end the opioid crisis?

Delaware Public Media

Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester is pushing a bill that aims to chip away at the opioid crisis by focusing on fentanyl. 

Overdose deaths have been climbing in Delaware for years—as has the prevalence of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that's 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. It’s cut into a number of street drugs and can catch users by surprise.

U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester’s STOP Fentanyl Act would enhance public health surveillance of the substance and improve data sharing on it, as well as expand access to medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder. 

Blunt Rochester visited the Hope Center, New Castle County’s hotel-turned-homeless-shelter, Monday to promote the bill and talk with local officials working to stop addiction. 

Credit Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester visits with staff at the Hope Center's health center

Jalisa Thompson is a psychiatric social worker with the Bridge Clinic, which connects shelter residents with care for substance use disorder or mental health issues. She says substance abuse is the most common issue she sees. 

“I came here from New York City, so there I was used to having mostly mental health issues, mostly chronic conditions,” she said. “Down here the drug use is a lot bigger. The drug use population is a lot broader. So you see a lot of different use of drugs—opioids, fentanyl, which is something that’s more popular on the streets, marijuana, alcohol abuse—you name it.”

State Division of Public Health Director Dr. Karyl Rattay says sustained funding for addiction treatment, prevention and data collection is needed to fight the opioid crisis. 

Credit Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
DHSS Sec. Molly Magarik (left), Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long (center) and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (right) speak at a roundtable discussion about the opioid crisis


“The data is so important to be able to better understand where we can make changes to the system, what overall interventions are going to work or not work,” she said. 

Delaware also expects over $100 million to fight the opioid crisis from last month’s nationwide settlement with Johnson & Johnson and pharmaceutical distributors. 

Delaware had the second highest overdose death rate in the country in 2018 and 2019. The Division of Forensic Science Medical Examiner Unit counted 431 drug overdose deaths in Delaware in 2019 and a record 447 in 2020. There have been at least 214 suspected overdose deaths in the state so far this year.

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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