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HEALTH and BHDDH Issue Warning About Spike in Drug Overdose Deaths

HEALTH and BHDDH Issue Warning About Spike in Drug Overdose Deaths

Today the Rhode Island Department of Health (HEALTH) reports 17 apparent accidental drug overdose deaths some with paraphernalia at the scene in the month of July and the first week of August. While these numbers are preliminary (as none of these have a final toxicology report), Rhode Island is apparently experiencing a considerable increase from the entire month of June, when there was only one drug overdose death.

This uptick in apparent drug overdose deaths underscores the fact that Rhode Island continues to experience a prescription drug and street-drug overdose crisis. In response to the recent increase of apparent overdose deaths, Michael Fine, MD, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health says that, "we must stay vigilant in getting this product off the street, we must continue to focus our efforts to reduce over-prescribing of opioids, we must focus on reducing overdose deaths, and we must help already addicted individuals get access to recovery and treatment."

As overdose deaths happen most frequently on weekends Dr. Michael Fine cautions all Rhode Islanders over this upcoming long weekend, "to stay safe, make good decisions, and remember to use Narcan in an emergency." Narcan (Naloxone) is an emergency antidote to opioid overdose. It can be used in emergency situations to potentially reverse the effects of drug overdoses but, as Dr. Fine points out, "Narcan will save a life but getting into treatment will prevent your death. Addiction is a disease, recovery is possible, and treatment is available and effective." Since January 1, 2014, Rhode Island Emergency Medical Services (EMS) has administered 932 doses of Narcan (Naloxone).

Craig Stenning, Director of the RI Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), reminds Rhode Islanders that access to treatment is available through the Medicaid Expansion of the Affordable Care Act; recovery coaches are available to mentor individuals through the early stages of their recovery; Narcan kits are available through treatment centers; and immediate access to substance abuse treatment is available to individuals through their primary care physicians.

"Recovery from substance abuse is available and possible for any individual. The lives of these individuals are important to their families, their communities, and their State. Anyone who knows someone who may be using needs to reach out, as uncomfortable as that may seem, and explain the real danger of overdose, the availability of treatment and the real possibility of recovery," says Director Stenning.

Since the beginning of 2014, there have been 127 apparent (95 confirmed) accidental drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island. The deaths are geographically spread throughout the State, and the age range of the decedents is 20-62 years old. Many of these deaths are directly related to the use of fentanyl and heroin, which are opioids. Legal prescriptions for opioids, particularly oxycodone and hydrocodone, have increased in Rhode Island during recent years.

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