Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

Rhode Island’s department of health will once again release weekly statistics on accidental drug overdose deaths – instead of monthly. The department has struggled to whittle down a backlog of investigations while keeping the public informed.


A candlelight vigil on Monday will remember those who have died from drug overdoses. The vigil comes at a time when Rhode Island is struggling to turn the tide on heroin and prescription drug addiction.

In the past five years, Rhode Island has lost more than 1,000 people to accidental drug overdoses. An advocacy group called Rhode Island Communities for Addiction Recovery Efforts has organized tonight’s vigil to remember them, and support their friends and loved ones.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

Can pharmacies play a bigger role to prevent death from drug overdose? That’s the question researchers from Rhode Island and Massachusetts hope to answer thanks to a new $1.3 million dollar federal grant from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. 

The team plans to figure out how pharmacies can promote the use of a drug called naloxone (sometimes called Narcan).

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

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. 

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

A law meant to encourage people to call 911 when someone overdoses will expire July 1st. An effort to extend the Good Samaritan law failed to pass the General Assembly. Now, a chorus of disapproval is rising among public health advocates.

State officials wanted a shelf date on Rhode Island’s Good Samaritan law in case it had a negative impact on law enforcement. The state attorney general says the law has barred officers from charging people with drug crimes in some cases. But National Network for Public Health Law spokesman Corey Davis said repealing the law could cost lives.

Corey Davis / Network for Public Health Law (https://www.networkforphl.org/)

A law designed to encourage people to get help for a drug overdose will expire on July 1st. State lawmakers were unable to reconcile versions of the Good Samaritan law before the General Assembly adjourned for the session.

The Good Samaritan law protected people who called 911 about an overdose from being arrested for drug possession. Lawmakers considered extending the law and expanding it to people on parole or probation. But the General Assembly left for the summer without taking any action. That means legal protection expires in just a few days.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes

Note: I've added a point about the Good Samaritan law, thanks to comments from readers. It's up for consideration now at the Statehouse.

A group of state and federal leaders gathered yesterday for a roundtable discussion on Rhode Island's seemingly intractable drug overdose crisis. Present for that discussion: Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), health dept. director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, behavioral health dept. director Maria Montanaro, Gov. Gina Raimondo, and head of the state police, Col. Steven O'Donnell. Reporters were invited to listen in, then ask a few questions.

Kristin / RIPR

Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) has introduced legislation to make the overdose antidote drug Narcan more widely available nationwide. The legislation would make funding available to community organizations to distribute the drug and provide training.  Reed says it does not address the cost of Narcan, which has more than doubled over the past few years.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

The price of naloxone, a drug that can reverse a drug overdose, has skyrocketed. That’s affecting efforts to prevent overdose deaths. Michelle MacKenzie runs an overdose prevention program at the Miriam Hospital. She says when her program started buying and distributing the injectable overdose rescue drug naloxone, in 2006, it cost about a dollar a vial. Today it’s $15 a vial.

“So if we had to pay $15 a vial, I mean, last year we distributed upwards of 800 kits, which is 1600 vials of naloxone. We would have been like, 200. I mean, think about that,” said MacKenzie.

Rhode Island is still grappling with soaring numbers of drug overdose deaths, many of them involving the painkiller fentanyl. It's not clear the message about the dangers of fentanyl is reaching those at risk.

Aaron Read / RIPR

A Providence man has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge for selling the illicit drug fentanyl - a potent painkiller sometimes laced in heroin - that led to a woman’s overdose death. It’s the first time Rhode Island prosecutors have brought murder charges in connection with an overdose death. But the trend is taking hold nationwide.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

Rhode Island health officials have rolled out a new campaign against drug addiction. The campaign debuts as the state faces more grim statistics: 232 Rhode Islanders died from apparent accidental drug overdoses in 2014, the same number as in 2013.

You may see their faces on buses, or hear their voices in public service announcements. They’re people in recovery from addiction. They include Jonathan Goyer, a former addict turned recovery counselor. He said  it will take more than advertising to fight drug addiction.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

Rhode Island health officials are considering new regulations governing how health care providers prescribe painkillers. So far this year, 212 Rhode Islanders have died from accidental drug overdoses, most involving opioids, according to the health department.

Jake Harper / RIPR

Hepatitis C infects an estimated five million Americans, nearly 20-thousand Rhode Islanders among them. And most of them don’t know it. But many are about to find out. It takes about 20 years for most people to notice any symptoms from hepatitis C, and it was about that long ago most people got infected. Now doctors in Rhode Island and throughout the country are noticing a wave of patients with the kind of advanced liver disease hepatitis C can cause.                                                                               

Addiction usually leaves a wake of chaos, and all kinds of casualties - marriages, jobs, health. Most tragically, the current crisis of opioid addiction (to prescription painkillers and heroin) in Rhode Island has cost too many lives. Well over 160 Rhode Islanders have died from accidental opioid overdoses so far this year. Hundreds more might have joined them had it not been for the rescue drug naloxone.