US Marine Corps / via Wikimedia Commons

The rising number of overdose deaths has strained the resources of the state’s only medical examiner’s office. Limited staffing and a growing number of requests have slowed down investigations – and threaten the office’s accreditation.

Attorney General Peter Kilmartin

Rhode Island’s Attorney General has issued guidance for law enforcement after the expiration of the Good Samaritan law. The law was created to protect people from drug charges if they call 911 about a drug overdose; it expired July 1st after lawmakers took no action to extend it before adjourning for the summer.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

A law meant to encourage people to call 911 when someone overdoses will expire July 1st. An effort to extend the Good Samaritan law failed to pass the General Assembly. Now, a chorus of disapproval is rising among public health advocates.

State officials wanted a shelf date on Rhode Island’s Good Samaritan law in case it had a negative impact on law enforcement. The state attorney general says the law has barred officers from charging people with drug crimes in some cases. But National Network for Public Health Law spokesman Corey Davis said repealing the law could cost lives.

Corey Davis / Network for Public Health Law (https://www.networkforphl.org/)

A law designed to encourage people to get help for a drug overdose will expire on July 1st. State lawmakers were unable to reconcile versions of the Good Samaritan law before the General Assembly adjourned for the session.

The Good Samaritan law protected people who called 911 about an overdose from being arrested for drug possession. Lawmakers considered extending the law and expanding it to people on parole or probation. But the General Assembly left for the summer without taking any action. That means legal protection expires in just a few days.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

The Veterans Health Administration has stepped up efforts to fight drug overdose deaths and prescription painkiller addiction.

Veterans are more likely to suffer from chronic pain than others, and opioid painkillers have been a mainstay of treatment.

Lawmakers vote tomorrow on a bill that expands legal immunity for people who call 9-1-1 if they witness an overdose. The so-called Good Samaritan law will expire July 1st unless lawmakers vote to extend it.

Gov. Gina Raimondo says she is committed to preserving the law.       

"My focus as governor is to come up with a Good Samaritan law that we think is right and safe and encourages people to call 911 to save a life," Raimondo said.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes

Note: I've added a point about the Good Samaritan law, thanks to comments from readers. It's up for consideration now at the Statehouse.

A group of state and federal leaders gathered yesterday for a roundtable discussion on Rhode Island's seemingly intractable drug overdose crisis. Present for that discussion: Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), health dept. director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, behavioral health dept. director Maria Montanaro, Gov. Gina Raimondo, and head of the state police, Col. Steven O'Donnell. Reporters were invited to listen in, then ask a few questions.

Kristin / RIPR

Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) has introduced legislation to make the overdose antidote drug Narcan more widely available nationwide. The legislation would make funding available to community organizations to distribute the drug and provide training.  Reed says it does not address the cost of Narcan, which has more than doubled over the past few years.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

Rhode Island is facing a litany of serious health issues – from a rising number of overdose deaths to a spike in sexually transmitted infections. It’s up to the new director of the state’s health department, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, to address those epidemics and more. Scott is an infectious disease doctor who has spent the past few years consulting with the Department of Health. We recently sat down with her to learn more about how she’s approaching her new role.

Massachusetts public health officials are looking to Rhode Island for some new ideas to combat drug overdose deaths. They're interested in a program that connects emergency room patients with addiction recovery coaches.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

The price of naloxone, a drug that can reverse a drug overdose, has skyrocketed. That’s affecting efforts to prevent overdose deaths. Michelle MacKenzie runs an overdose prevention program at the Miriam Hospital. She says when her program started buying and distributing the injectable overdose rescue drug naloxone, in 2006, it cost about a dollar a vial. Today it’s $15 a vial.

“So if we had to pay $15 a vial, I mean, last year we distributed upwards of 800 kits, which is 1600 vials of naloxone. We would have been like, 200. I mean, think about that,” said MacKenzie.

Rhode Island is still grappling with soaring numbers of drug overdose deaths, many of them involving the painkiller fentanyl. It's not clear the message about the dangers of fentanyl is reaching those at risk.

Aaron Read / RIPR

A Providence man has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge for selling the illicit drug fentanyl - a potent painkiller sometimes laced in heroin - that led to a woman’s overdose death. It’s the first time Rhode Island prosecutors have brought murder charges in connection with an overdose death. But the trend is taking hold nationwide.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

Rhode Island health officials have rolled out a new campaign against drug addiction. The campaign debuts as the state faces more grim statistics: 232 Rhode Islanders died from apparent accidental drug overdoses in 2014, the same number as in 2013.

You may see their faces on buses, or hear their voices in public service announcements. They’re people in recovery from addiction. They include Jonathan Goyer, a former addict turned recovery counselor. He said  it will take more than advertising to fight drug addiction.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

A six-month-old program to help overdose survivors get connected with addiction treatment is getting some results, according to the state’s behavioral health agency. The program puts recovery coaches on call in emergency rooms throughout Rhode Island to reach out to survivors before they’re sent home.

The recovery coaches are trained peer counselors, in recovery from addiction themselves. They try to link overdose survivors with addiction treatment, and educate them about preventing another overdose.