Health officials tracking increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths in R.I.

PROVIDENCE – Overdose deaths involving fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, are on the rise in Rhode Island, health officials say.

The R.I. Office of the State Medical Examiners reports that of the 356 people who died of drug overdoses during the first 11 months of last year, 256, or 73%, had fentanyl in their systems. That’s compared with 69% in 2019.

Data on overdose deaths in December of 2020 is not yet final because it can take the state medical examiners office up to three months to confirm a cause of death.

Fentanyl has become known for tainting heroin, but the drug is also appearing in methamphetamine and cocaine, according to the R.I. Department of Health.

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From January through November of 2020, 72% of fatal cocaine overdoses in the state involved fentanyl.

“Illegal drugs have always been dangerous, but right now they are more deadly than ever,” said Rhode Island Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. “If you do use drugs, do not use alone, and make sure that your friends and family have naloxone available. Steps like these can save a life and give someone an opportunity to take the first step on their own personal journey of recovery.”

Elizabeth Graham is a PBN contributing writer.

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