Epidemiologist: To Curb Overdose Deaths, Treat Addiction As Disease

Aug 8, 2017

Gov. Gina Raimondo signed several bills Monday aimed at the ongoing fight against drug overdose deaths. More than 300 people died of drug overdose in Rhode Island in 2016, an increase from the previous year.

Jody Rich, an epidemiologist at Brown Medical School, said treating addiction as a health issue is key to curbing opioid abuse. He said that could mean changing the way we treat people convicted of dealing drugs.

“You can’t treat this disease effectively by locking people up,” Rich said. “Recidivism rates are through the roof. That’s the definition of insanity. Keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. People with opiate use disorder get out of the correctional system and relapse.”

According to Rich, cutting down the illicit drug trade means getting more of those incarcerated people into treatment.

“Most people that are involved in the drug trade are involved in the drug trade because of the disease of addiction they have themselves, and they’re just trying to get by the best anyway they can,” Rich said.

Rhode Island’s new legislation expands the list of controlled substances and requires doctors to provide more information to patients when prescribing opioid pain killers. The state has also introduced addiction treatment programs for inmates in state correctional facilities.