DELAWARE, Del.—The state’s opioid epidemic is the latest in a long string of deadly events.
And in the first few months of 2017, the state had one of the highest numbers of opioid overdose fatalities in the nation.
The spike in overdose deaths has been particularly dramatic in the past month, as doctors and health officials are rushing to address the growing crisis and treat people in the most difficult places.
But experts are cautioning that the state’s recovery has been uneven, with many counties suffering an increase in overdoses and others continuing to struggle.
“Delaware has been a great place to be an opioid user,” said Dr. William Burt, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who is among the experts advising the state to ramp up treatment and provide emergency access.
But Burt said he is also worried about a lingering problem: The state’s population has grown.
He said the state has seen a slight uptick in deaths in recent years, and now has about 1.2 million people, which has led to concerns about an oversupply of medication.
“There is still a lack of capacity for care,” he said.
In a recent survey, about 60 percent of Delawares doctors said they would not prescribe opioid-based medication to patients under the age of 21.
But even some of those doctors are saying the shortage is not enough.
“We have a high level of prescription opioid abuse,” said Robert Smith, the chief medical officer for the state.
Smith said the number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers has skyrocketed in recent months, and that doctors have begun prescribing the medication to more people.
“The problem is that we are in a very vulnerable population,” he added.
Burt and other experts agree that Delaware needs to find the right balance between the availability of medication and the supply of opioid pain medication.
The state has one of only a few places in the country where there is no prescription drug shortage.
So many people are prescribed opioids at the same time, and because there is so much supply, it’s a problem, Burt added.
The problem is the supply is limited, so it’s very difficult to get enough to treat patients.
The overdose crisis is one of many in the U.S. that have led to more than 1.3 million opioid overdose cases in the last year, according to the U-M Department of Public Health and Human Services.
As of June, Delaware had the fourth-highest overdose death rate in the United States, with more than 2,200 deaths per 100,000 people, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A few other states have been hit harder than Delaware.
In Texas, which had the nation’s highest number of deaths in the opioid crisis, the death rate is about 30 times higher than the national average, according data from the state Department of State Health Services.
In Colorado, which is in a similar situation to Delaware, the number is nearly 20 times higher.
The deaths in those states are far greater than the number in Delaware, which only had 2,072 overdose deaths in 2017, according CDC data.
But there is still some hope for the states where opioid painkiller overdoses are rising.
In Maryland, where overdose deaths have skyrocketed, the increase in overdose cases is not as steep as in other states.
“That’s a real concern because of the nature of our drug system, but I think that there’s a lot of hope for states that are seeing these numbers,” said Jeffrey Farr, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“It’s a bit of a challenge to get a state like Delaware to do more than just do the same as other states that have seen these numbers increase,” he told Fortune.
But Farr said there is a growing sense among medical leaders that the number may not stay high for long.
“You have to ask: How long is too long?
And we have a real opportunity here in the next few months,” he continued.
“I think there is hope for us to do something that will really make a difference in this country.”