Substance Abuse


Two community forums are taking place over the next week to talk about preventing overdose. They couldn't come at a better time.

Overdose kills more Rhode Islanders than any other kind of accident (including traffic and guns). During the first two weeks of January, 22 Rhode Islanders died from presumed illicit drug overdoses. Another two died over the past two weekends, according to a source at the health department.

Lots of news organizations, including this one, are ticking off the year's top 10 stories. I'd like to run through some of Rhode Island's bottom health stories, meaning the ones least likely to have appeared on radar screens - but which should have. And don't worry: there's some good news in here too!

In no particular order:

Rhode Island Hospital and the entire Lifespan network have announced new guidelines for prescribing painkillers in their emergency rooms. ER doctors are trying to address the growing problem of prescription drug abuse and addiction.

It's been a year since the tragedy in Newtown, CT took so many lives, including that of the gunman, who some believe was battling serious mental illness but may not have gotten all the treatment he needed.

We’ve heard lots, since then, about the need for more mental health resources, and lots about the rollercoaster ride of federal and state funding for those resources. Here’s a round up of some of the year’s most significant developments for mental health patients and advocates:

State lawmakers are looking at ways to strengthen Rhode Island’s prescription drug monitoring program. They say there are too many gaps in the current system that allow people to abuse prescription drugs.

The Providence Center has received a $1.7 million dollar federal grant to try to help people with mental health problems avoid the emergency room.  The program could help hospitals, and the state, slash some of the most expensive medical bills.      

That's the question vexing public health directors - and anyone with a loved one who's experienced one -  everywhere. That includes Rhode Island, where health department chief Dr. Michael Fine named combating prescription drug overdose deaths one of his top priorities.

US Marine Corps / via Wikimedia Commons

For Rhode Islanders between 15 and 44 years old, the leading cause of death is accidental drug overdose, usually involving prescription painkillers.  State health leaders are calling it an epidemic. There’s growing evidence that tracking the number of pills doctors prescribe to potential abusers might ease the problem. But Rhode Island’s fledgling prescription drug monitoring program is just getting started.

The dark side of opiates

Recently, I reported on Rhode Island's fledgling prescription drug monitoring program (listen to that story here). It's a program that's supposed to spot troubling trends in prescription drug misuse. And as you might know, there's plenty of trouble to spot in Rhode Island, where prescription drug overdose death rates have soared along with rates of addiction to narcotic painkillers.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

Perhaps you remember hearing or reading about a plan to divert so-called "frequent fliers" - meaning frequently intoxicated emergency room users - from ERs to some kind of sobering center?

US Dept. of Health and Human Services / Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Felicia Lesnett / The Providence Center

In less than 20 years, a quarter of the state’s population will be older than 60.  In a series we call “The Silver Boom: Aging in Rhode Island,” we’re looking this week at how the state will take care of this expanding older population, and how it can benefit from it. Here’s an in-depth look at the growing problem of substance abuse and addiction among seniors, beginning at a community recovery center in Pawtucket.

Sam Bynum wasn’t born an alcoholic. But, like many alcoholics will tell you, the signs were there early on.

In Rhode Island, medical marijuana is already legal, through people who are so-called “caregivers” selling to patients. The state has established three “compassion centers” that haven’t opened yet. In Massachusetts, regulators are still considering how to implement the law. Doctors there want tighter controls.

A proposal is taking shape to divert frequent users of emergency rooms into a substance abuse treatment facility, instead. Rhode Island’s Department of Behavioral Healthcare has pitched a pilot program for Providence that would transport drunk or high people to a sobering center. Staff there could then connect them with more treatment or housing and job services. Dale Klatzker heads The Providence Center, one of the state’s largest community mental health organizations. He says marshaling the resources to address this social problem will be difficult.

Photo by: Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

A new partnership between The Providence Center and the Greater Providence YMCA launches today to help people recovering from drug addiction lead healthier lives. The second Anchor Recovery Community Center is now open for business.