RI Drug Overdose Deaths Higher Than Reported In 2015

Dec 14, 2016

Credit Aaron Read / RIPR

State health officials say they missed more than two dozen victims of accidental opioid overdose in prior reporting on last year, and the undercount continued into the current calendar year. The problem appears to stem from data entry errors.

Until 2015, the state’s prior medical examiner, Dr. Christina Stanley, entered all the overdose death data herself. Incoming Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott thought that might be slowing down the agency's ability to calculate results, so she decentralized the process. This meant allowing other doctors to add their own data. But, health officials say, some fields were inadvertently left empty. When state officials queried the data, some deaths were left out.

The number of deaths for 2015 was 290, 32 more than originally reported. To date this year, 270 people have died of opioid overdoses, an increase compared to the same time last year. 

A spokesman for the health department says the news is disheartening. But the agency says families were properly notified about the cause of a loved one’s death. The state goal remains to reduce overdose deaths by a third within three years.