A special report on the epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose. We examine how our problem with prescription painkiller 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.
In the first 9 weeks of this year, 55 Rhode Islanders have died from apparent drug overdoses. Overdose has been the number one cause of accidental death in Rhode Island since 2008, but the problem has been drawing more attention in recent days because of the surprising number of deaths this year alone. Rhode Island Public Radio health care reporter Kristin Gourlay has been at work on a documentary about drug overdose and addiction since well before the flood of recent headlines.
Rhode Island’s department of health director doctor Michael Fine plans to brief state lawmakers Wednesday on the state of the state’s health.
Fine will update lawmakers on the state’s progress on certain health indicators. Smoking rates are down to about 17 percent. New cases of HIV are falling. But since his last briefing for the General Assembly, Fine said, the needle hasn’t moved in the right direction on another major health challenge – drug addiction and overdose.
“Drug overdose death is what’s keeping us up at night. That’s our single biggest slippage," said Fine.
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.
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.
Help us remember those we've lost to drug overdoses.
Overdoses are claiming more and more lives in our communities. We invite you to share memories of loved ones and friends you've lost to a drug overdose on this shared map. Just drop a pin on the place where the overdose happened or where your loved one lived (no street numbers, just street names, corners, places, etc.), add your loved one's name and date of death, and share a memory or two - a sentence, a word, a prayer, whatever you'd like.
Two community forums are taking place over the next week to talk about preventing overdose. They couldn't come at a better time.
Overdose kills more Rhode Islanders than any other kind of accident (including traffic and guns). During the first two weeks of January, 22 Rhode Islanders died from presumed illicit drug overdoses. Another two died over the past two weekends, according to a source at the health department.