New Study Finds Rhode Island Ranks 13th in Overdoes Deaths

Oct 9, 2013

State health officials said they don’t know why Rhode Island has the nation’s 13th highest rate of accidental deaths caused by illicit drug overdoses.  But they said doctors may be part of the problem.

Twenty-eight-year-old Ross Ricciarelli is a recovering heroin addict. He got started on Vicodin and progressed to Percocete. When prescriptions became hard to come by he started shooting up.

“I was prescribed them at one point and I really had no idea that it was going to just take me down roads that I never would have imagined that I would have gone down,” said Ricciarelli.

Ricciarelli was lucky. He quit before he died of an overdose. But every week in Rhode Island four people are not so lucky. They succumb to unintentional drug overdoses. 

Rhode Island has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in New England and the 13th highest in the United States, according to a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  State health director Dr. Michael Fine said part of the problem is that doctors are over prescribing opiates.

“Well they’re trying to make patients more comfortable. That’s what their job is,” said Fine. “And that’s appropriate. But the challenge is how to relieve pain inside what we call a therapeutic window, you know, make sure that we treat just the pain that’s there.”

Fine said doctors are being urged to ask patients about prior histories of addiction and to prescribe only the amount of opiates absolutely needed for pain management.

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