The Warm Hand-Off

Apr 17, 2014

Doctors' offices and emergency departments sometimes struggle with how to help someone in active addiction. Where do you send them once they're stabilized? How do you talk to them about their addiction? Often they don't have the resources to arrange the next steps for these patients, and therein lies a missing link for addicts who seek medical help for one reason or another but don't get into treatment for the addiction that probably played a role in their seeking medical help in the first place.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

State leaders have announced some new steps in the fight against prescription painkiller and heroin addiction. The news accompanies the release of the latest grim numbers of drug overdose deaths.  

Rhode Island health department head Michael Fine told a standing-room-only crowd at the Anchor Community Recovery Center in Pawtucket that 85 people have died since January from suspected drug overdoses, mostly heroin. Hundreds more have overdosed but survived, he said, thanks to an antidote called Narcan, which first responders carry.

Several weeks ago, I wrote a blog post titled "Hearing Heroin Everywhere." If I were to rewrite that title today, it'd be "Hearing Narcan Everywhere." It seems the conversation has changed a bit from "Houston, we have a problem," to "Houston, how do we stop this thing?" But I'm confident most health care providers and people affected by addiction and overdose would agree that the fact that we're still having the conversation - publicly, in the media, in public forums, at city halls - is a good thing.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

The rising number of Rhode Islanders struggling with an addiction to prescription painkillers and heroin has brought an increase in babies born addicted to these substances. And Women & Infants Hospital is treating a growing number of them.

Garry Bliss / The Providence Center

We had a full house at the Providence Athenaeum last week. If you weren't able to join us, not to worry. You can listen to the full program right here.

Rhode Island Public Radio, in concert with the lovely Providence Athenaeum, hosted a stellar group of panelists for this one hour radio show taped in front of a live audience. Guests included a recovering addict and overdose survivor, an addiction medicine and infectious disease specialist, a drug abuse epidemiologist, a Warwick police captain trained in mental health first aid, and an addiction treatment specialist.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

Rhode Island’s health department has issued new emergency regulations designed to make it easier to access a drug called naloxone, used to reverse drug overdoses. The new rules come in response to a spike in deaths from heroin and prescription painkiller overdoses.

If you weren't able to join us last night at the Providence Athenaeum for Policy & Pinot - "Killer Drugs: Tackling Opioid Addiction and Overdose in Rhode Island" - not to worry. We recorded the program and will broadcast it Sunday, March 16 at 6 pm here on Rhode Island Public Radio. But we're sorry we missed you!


More about last night's Policy & Pinot at the Providence Athenaeum

The Senate Health and Human Services committee will be considering a suite of proposed bills that aim to tackle the state's prescription painkiller and heroin addiction and overdose crisis.

The committee's chair, Senator Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), plans to introduce several of those bills, including:

Tomorrow night! Join Rhode Island Public Radio for Policy & Pinot, our ongoing public discussion series held in conjunction with the Providence Athenaeum.

When: Tuesday, March 11, 2014. Reception at 5:30 PM, program begins shortly after.

Where: The Providence Athenaeum, 251 Benefit Street, Providence, RI. Some street parking available.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

A record number of Rhode Islanders have died from an opioid overdose. In this special report on the epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose, we examine how our problem with prescription painkillers and heroin addiction and overdose got so bad, what it's like to respond to this crisis on the front lines, and how communities, and addicts, can recover.

That's the gist of the question a Bradley Hasbro Research Center scientist is asking as she embarks on a project to study 400 Rhode Island teens after their first brush with the law.

Rhode Island's health department director says 45 Rhode Islanders have died from overdoses so far this year. Concerns are growing that a dangerous combination of heroin and Fentanyl is continuing to kill unsuspecting users. The state medical examiner is still investigating, but Fentanyl is suspected in many of these deaths. It's a powerful painkiller, up to 80 times more powerful than heroin. In combination it can kill even habitual users quickly. There's an antidote for overdoses from opioids like heroin and other painkillers. It's called Narcan.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

State health authorities say 38 Rhode Islanders have died from suspected illicit IV drug overdoses so far this year, possibly from drugs that may have been laced with a powerful substance called fentanyl. That's despite public warnings the drugs might be tainted.

Drug dealers may be adding synthetic fentanyl to heroin to boost potency or stretch the supply to make more money. But what their customers may not know is that this particular compound is many times more potent than heroin and can kill even habitual IV drug users the first time they take it.

Aaron Read / RIPR

Rhode Island’s Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals has issued emergency regulations in response to the recent spike in drug overdose deaths.

Has heroin abuse reached epidemic proportions? What about painkiller abuse? Or are we just hearing more about it?

The academic jury is still out on this, as far as I can tell. Of course, it doesn't really matter what you call it if you've lost a loved one to heroin overdose.