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RIDOH and BHDDH Host First Statewide Community Overdose Engagement Summit

Cities and towns from throughout Rhode Island gather to develop local overdose response plans

On behalf of Governor Gina Raimondo's Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force, the Rhode Island Departments of Health (RIDOH) and Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH) convened more than 250 leaders today from municipalities throughout the state to participate in the first statewide Community Overdose Engagement Summit to collaboratively address the overdose epidemic.

Summit participants spent the day examining their local overdose data; identifying local resources to support overdose prevention, rescue, treatment, and recovery; and developing local overdose response plans. To complete these plans, RIDOH has made grant funding up to $5,000 dollars available to municipalities.

"We've lost too many lives to the opioid overdose epidemic," Raimondo said. "We can only beat it by working together. Thank you to each and every local leader taking action to help us save lives and keep our communities safe."

Summit participants included municipal leaders, healthcare providers, pharmacists, behavioral health counselors, law enforcement personnel and other first responders, people in the recovery and treatment communities, prevention coalitions members, family and youth substance use prevention organization members, and representatives from Rhode Island Centers of Excellence and RIDOH's Health Equity Zones (HEZs).

"Public health that works is public health that is local and community-focused," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "This Community Overdose Engagement Summit allowed state leaders to provide cities and towns with local data, tools, and resources, including grant funding, to help them prevent overdoses and save lives in their communities. This kind of collaboration within cities and towns, and between municipalities and the state, is critical to our work to overcome the overdose crisis in Rhode Island."

"The sharing of information between cities and towns allows treatment providers, peer recovery coaches and first responders to act in a timely fashion. We need to work together to make sure that everyone who is suffering from substance use disorder knows that addiction is a disease, treatment is available, and recovery is possible," said BHDDH Director Rebecca Boss. "Stigma is a roadblock, but education and treatment can help to break those barriers, which is key to resolving this crisis."

Since March 2014 hospitals and emergency departments have been required to report any suspected opioid overdoses to RIDOH within 48 hours. These data have allowed RIDOH to look at overdose activity in each community on a weekly basis and identify data trends and abnormalities. Through this data analysis, thresholds for local warnings were established and a system for alerting local leaders was developed. Rhode Island Overdose Action Area Response (ROAR) advisories are sent to municipal leaders to alert them of an increase in overdose activity within a seven-day period. In addition, when RIDOH observes an increase in a specific geographical area three times within a six-week period, RIDOH, BHDDH, and the Rhode Island Fusion Center hold a local Community Overdose Engagement meeting with those leaders to examine the community's customized data, discuss their unique challenges, and form solutions. Today's Summit was the first statewide Community Overdose Engagement meeting, designed to bring communities together to learn from one another and develop local overdose response plans.

Some of the initiatives shared at the Summit that can be replicated across the state include:

  • Peer recovery specialists, who are available in a variety of settings, to link overdose survivors with the support and services they need following an overdose. Settings include hospitals emergency departments, community centers, and police departments. Anchor Mobile Outreach brings peer recovery specialists to the street where they provide needle exchange, distribute naloxone kits, and link people to treatment and recovery resources in the community.
  • As of this week, Providence has 12 fire stations designated as "Safe Stations" to provide 24-hour support to those with substance use disorder. The stations have trained firemen who are able to call for peer recovery support and provide transportation to recovery services. The stations allow individuals living with substance use disorders to access resources in a non-hospital or clinical treatment setting, day or night.
  • Warwick, and West Warwick Police Departments have implemented behavioral health navigator programs where licensed mental health professionals accompany police officers on calls to connect residents with treatment/recovery resources and potentially divert them from the criminal justice system. Behavioral health navigators follow-up with these residents, as well as their family members and friends to ensure that post-overdose support systems are in place.

The Rhode Island Disaster Medical Assistance Team's (RIDMAT) Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), along with RIDOH, and BHDDH will offer technical support to municipalities in developing their local overdose response plans and in implementing their strategies of prevention, rescue, treatment, and recovery. Cities and towns can start the process of applying for funds online at

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