Rhode Island’s health department has started tracking the number of prescriptions written for opioid painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin. Agency head Dr. Michael Fine says that’s because those drugs are addictive. And four out of five people who use heroin got started on prescription painkillers. In July, he says, 118,000 Rhode Islanders got prescriptions for opioid painkillers.
“And that’s not to say that everyone who gets a prescribed narcotic a) doesn’t need it because many people do or b) is going to move on to illicit drugs," said Fine. "But one in 10 Rhode Islanders are exposed to a drug that could very well be the gateway.”
Fine says heroin is most likely involved in a spate of recent accidental drug overdose deaths. Seventeen Rhode Islanders died of apparent overdoses in July, up dramatically from just one death in June. Overdose has claimed 127 lives since the beginning of the year.