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 Rhode Island health department has issued more emergency regulations to deal with the state’s rising number of deaths from opioid overdoses. The new regulations require hospitals and health care professionals to report any overdoses from prescription painkillers, heroin, or other opioids to the department within 48 hours.

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

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.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

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.

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.


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.

Lots of news organizations, including this one, are ticking off the year's top 10 stories. I'd like to run through some of Rhode Island's bottom health stories, meaning the ones least likely to have appeared on radar screens - but which should have. And don't worry: there's some good news in here too!

In no particular order: