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Increase in Overdose Deaths Identified in the Early Months of 2020

Preliminary data indicate that Rhode Island saw a significant increase in accidental drug overdose deaths in the first quarter of 2020, compared to the same period in years past, State officials are announcing today.

Although data for January, February, and March of 2020 are still considered provisional, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) anticipates that between 93 and 95 people will have died of accidental drug overdoses during this period. This represents roughly a 22% increase in accidental drug overdose deaths compared to the same time period in 2019. (See data below.) This number of accidental overdose deaths would be the most for a quarter on record in Rhode Island.

Although the factors driving this increase are still being investigated, one factor is the presence of extremely lethal synthetic opioids, such as carfentanil, in Rhode Island. The number of overdoses involving more than one substance has also increased.

"Illicit drugs have always been dangerous, but right now they are more deadly than ever," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "If you do use drugs, do not use alone, and make sure that your friends and family have naloxone available. Steps like these can save a life and give someone an opportunity to take the first step on their own personal journey of recovery. There is hope for everyone because recovery is absolutely possible for everyone."

Dr. Alexander-Scott and Kathryn Power, the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH), are the co-chairs of Governor Gina M. Raimondo's Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force.

"The COVID-19 crisis has made it more challenging for people with substance use disorder to stay connected to life-saving resources and support," said Kathryn Power, Director of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH). "Polysubstance use, including the use of stimulants like methamphetamine, cocaine, and crack-cocaine, are also on the rise. It is even more critical to leverage the collaborative efforts of Governor Raimondo's Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force to address this emerging trend."

After peaking in 2016, Rhode Island's annual fatal drug overdose numbers have been trending downward modestly. In 2016, 336 people died of accidental drug overdoses. In 2019, 308 people died of accidental drug overdoses.

The Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force's 2019-2021 Strategic Plan Update focuses on the core strategies of prevention, rescue, treatment, and recovery, as well as cross-cutting areas of harm reduction and racial equity. The Task Force continues to meet monthly on the second Wednesday of each month and Zoom meetings are open to the public. Task Force Work Groups meet virtually on a monthly basis and always welcome new volunteers.

How can people get help?

Rhode Island's treatment and recovery resources are still available online, over the phone, or in-person to support people with substance use disorder.

- BH Link, Rhode Island's 24/7 behavioral health hotline, 401-414-LINK, connects callers to trained professionals who can provide confidential counseling, referrals, and support services.

- People can go to BH Link's drop-in center in-person to get connected to support at 975 Waterman Avenue in East Providence.

- People who are experiencing opioid withdrawal can connect with a healthcare provider over the phone by calling Rhode Island's Buprenorphine Hotline,401-606-5456. Callers can learn about Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) options and make a plan for continued treatment and recovery support through a Rhode Island Center of Excellence. Rhode Island Centers of Excellences are specialty centers that use evidence-based practices and provide treatment and the coordination of care to individuals with moderate to severe opioid use disorder.

- Fire stations in Providence, Newport, and Woonsocket are "Safe Stations." This means that they are open every day to help people in crisis get connected to a peer recovery support specialist and treatment and recovery support services.

- More information about drug overdose prevention is available at preventoverdoseri.org. This includes information about naloxone (sometimes called Narcan). This is a medicine that can reverse an opioid overdose. In Rhode Island, you can get naloxone at your local pharmacy without a prescription from a doctor. When you buy naloxone at a pharmacy, the pharmacist can show you how to use it.


Rhode Island's accidental drug overdose death data from January 1, 2020 to March 31, 2020 should be finalized in the coming weeks, as toxicology results are still pending for some March cases.

Accidental Overdose Deaths in Quarter One

2020 93 to 95 (provisional)

2019 77

2018 66

2017 89

2016 87

2015 81

2014 79

Total Accidental Overdose Deaths

2020 129 *

2019 308

2018 314

2017 324

2016 336

2015 290

2014 240

* Because of the time lag in confirming drug overdose deaths, this number should not be used to do to-date comparisons.

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