Governor Gina Raimondo has reinstated a task force charged with preventing drug overdose deaths. And she’s asking them for a plan to within 90 days.
94 Rhode Islanders have died so far this year from accidental drug overdoses involving prescription painkillers or heroin, a slight increase over last year. To reverse that trend, the state has tried many programs – including broad distribution of the overdose antidote Narcan and required reporting for emergency rooms.
But Brown university epidemiologist Traci Green, Ph.D, says those efforts have lacked coordination.
“What’s nice about this particular approach," said Green, "is the opportunity to weave through the governor’s office many different voices within her cabinet so that we can coordinate an effort more directly.”
Green will advise the task force, along with her colleague, Miriam Hospital infectious disease and addiction expert Dr. Jody Rich. The group will be chaired by the directors of the state’s health department and the department for behavioral health, developmental disabilities, and hospitals. (For a full list of task force members, see below).
Gov. Raimondo says getting addicts into treatment is a priority.
“The reality is if we treat people with substance abuse," Raimondo said, "as opposed to sending them to our friend A.T. Wall [,head of the Rhode Island Dept. of Corrections] and the prisons, we’re going to save money and we’re going to save lives.”
The task force includes health experts, public officials, and researchers. Members will be advised by public health experts from Brown University and Johns Hopkins University.
Rhode Island currently has several initiatives to prevent overdose deaths underway. One is a program that staffs emergency rooms with recovery coaches, people who are in recovery from substance abuse and can help connect patients who survive an overdose with treatment options. Another is the widespread availability of Narcan, a drug that, if administered quickly, can reverse an overdose in seconds. Emergency rooms are also now required to report suspected overdoses within 48 hours to the state health department, to help officials track overdose death data. But members of the task force say more must be done, including helping primary care doctors manage patients' pain without prescribing too many - or in high doses - opioid painkillers.
Some patients who develop an addiction to prescription painkillers turn to heroin when they can no longer get those prescription or afford pills on the black market. Heroin costs less than the co-pay for many of the prescription drugs it's chemically similar to, said Maria Montanaro, head of the state's behavioral health agency.
Efforts to combat overdose deaths were dealt a blow when the General Assembly left for the summer without reinstating the Good Samaritan law, which gives limited legal immunity to people who call 911 for someone experiencing an overdose.
Current task force members:
Thomas Davis, CVS
Representative David Bennett, House of Representatives
Senator Joshua Miller, Senate
Taino Palermo, Commission on Health Equity and Advocacy
Susan Jacobsen, Director Health Equity Initiatives, Thundermist
Dr. Gary Bubly, Emergency Department
Jane Hayward, Health Center Association
Dr. Matthew Collins, BCBS
James McDonald, RI Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline
Peter Ragosta, RI Board of Pharmacy
Donna Policastro, RI Nurses Association
Dr. Robert Bartro, RI Dental Association
Dr. Peter Karczmar, RI Medical Society
Mike Rizzi, CODAC, Harm Reduction Representative
Nancy DiNuccio, Substance Abuse Prevention Association
Ariel Engleman, Drug Overdose, Prevention and Rescue Coalition
David Spencer, Drug and Alcohol Treatment Association
Michelle McKenzie, RICARES
Tommy Joyce, The Providence Center, Recovery Coach Representative
Dr. Jef Bratberg, URI, Pharmacy Practice
Brian Sullivan. Police Chiefs Association
Dr. Kathleen Hittner, OHIC
Dr. Deidre Gifford, Medicaid
Maria Montanaro, MSW, Director, Dept. of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals, Co-Chair
Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, Director, Dept. of Health, Co-Chair
Dr. Ken Wagner, RI Dept. of Education
Jamia McDonald, Exec. Office of Health and Human Services, Chief Strategy for Dept. of Children, Youth, and Families
Jason Rhodes, Dept. of Health Emergency Management Services
Ed D'Arezzo, state Medical Examiner’s Office
A.T. Wall, Dept. of Corrections
Colonel Steven O'Donnell, RI State Police
Peter Kilmartin, Attorney General