PROVIDENCE — As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report showing the 2016 national number of overdose deaths at 63,600, 21 percent more than in 2015, Rhode Island officials reported a 9 percent decrease in overdose deaths during the first eight months of 2017.
Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s office announced the comparison of the first eight months of 2016 and 2017 Tuesday. Opioid-related deaths require several months to confirm, so the full-year’s data from 2017 aren’t verified, said Andrea Bagnall Degos, communications director at the R.I. Department of Health.
Between January and August 2017 there were 208 accidental drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island. During 2016 in the same period, there were 227 accidental drug overdose deaths. For the same time frame in 2015, there were 201 overall overdose deaths in Rhode Island.
Rhode Island’s current total overdose-related deaths reached 233 in December. The total was 336 in 2016. According to the CDC, Rhode Island’s 28.2 percent drug overdose death rate (the number of deaths per 100,000 total population), with 310 deaths, was the fifth highest in the United States.
Bagnall Degos said the health department attributes the 2016 spike in overdose deaths to the increase in fentanyl use in the state. That year, according to the DOH website, 195 of the 336 total overdose-related deaths were caused by fentanyl. Thus far in 2017, the powerful opioid has accounted for 91 of the 157 total overdose deaths in the state.
Nationwide, the number of opioid overdose-related deaths (including, not limited to, fentanyl) in 2016 was 42,249, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control, eclipsing the expected annual number of breast cancer fatalities at 41,070.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a lead author with Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act combating the opioid epidemic signed into law in 2016, has called for increased funding to fight the epidemic to be added to the year-end spending bill.
“Senator Portman and I wrote a bipartisan law that directs the federal government to treat addiction like the public health crisis that it is,” Whitehouse said. “It’s helping communities do more of the things we know work, like boosting medication-assisted treatment and first responder access to overdose reversal drugs. But it needs real funding behind it. It’s time for my Republican colleagues to listen to the stories we’ve heard from Rhode Islanders and Americans everywhere and provide opioid crisis funding in this bill,” he added.
Locally, officials credited the state’s response to the opioid epidemic and overall substance abuse with the decrease in deaths from overdoses.
“The data being announced today suggest that our work to get people into treatment and on the road to recovery is starting to yield results. However, this issue absolutely remains a public health crisis and we must push even harder now in order to see any improvements sustained,” said R.I. Director of Health, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. “Now is the time to redouble our efforts-everyone has a role to play in beating back this epidemic. Together, we can prevent overdoses and save lives.”
The state has taken a number of steps aimed at curbing the number of overdose-related deaths in the state, according to Raimondo’s office:
- People entering the R.I. Department of Corrections are screened for opioid use, and medication-assisted treatment is offered to anyone who has opioid use disorder.
- Rhode Island has set up 10 Centers of Excellence throughout the state where people can receive medication-assisted treatment and recovery services for opioid-use disorder.
- The Governor’s Task Force cooperates with community-based organizations, pharmacies, emergency departments, and substance-use disorder treatment programs to provide naloxone to people at risk of experiencing or witnessing an overdose. The state pioneered pharmacy naloxone access regulations and delivery models.
- Rhode Island’s regulations for acute pain management were updated in March 2017. Opioid prescriptions are now limited to no more than 30 morphine milligram equivalents per day for 20 doses total, specifically for acute pain management; long-acting or extended-release opioids are prohibited for initial prescriptions for acute pain.
- Rhode Island has established consistent standards for hospitals and emergency departments statewide to provide quality care for opioid-use disorder and overdoses.
Alexander-Scott and Boss directed Rhode Islanders who are living with substance use-disorder to 401-942-STOP for resources available throughout the state. This recovery hotline allows people to access services through an English and/or Spanish-speaking counselor who is licensed in chemical-dependency. The line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Borkowski@PBN.com.