RIDOH: Drug overdose deaths plateau in R.I. but still at crisis level

PROVIDENCE – Drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island remained at a crisis level in 2022 but did slow in the second half of the year, according to data released by the R.I. Department of Health Wednesday.

In 2022, 434 Rhode Island residents died of accidental overdose deaths, on par with 2021 when 435 deaths occurred, according to RIDOH. The plateau in 2022 after three years of increases was due to a 13% decrease in overdose deaths in the last six months of the year, the department said.

RIDOH noted drug overdose deaths had surged since 2019 because of a more lethal drug supply.

“My heart breaks for each and every person who has lost a loved one to this epidemic. We owe it to the Rhode Islanders who have passed, and to their families, to do everything possible to prevent any additional overdose deaths,” said Gov. Daniel J. McKee in a news release. “We have many new interventions in place to respond to the dynamic nature of this crisis. We have to keep innovating and collaborating with our partners in the community to do everything we can to prevent overdoses, save lives, and improve the quality of life for Rhode Islanders.”

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According to RIDOH data, reported overdoses in 2022 were disproportionately seen amongst Black and non-Hispanic male residents from 25 to 54 years of age, with the rate of fatal overdoses among Hispanic/Latino Rhode Islanders increased by 50% from 2021 to 2022.

Fentanyl and cocaine continued to be involved in most fatal overdoses in 2022 the department said. Fentanyl was involved in 75% of fatal overdoses and cocaine was involved in 50% of fatal overdoses.

“What underlies substance-use disorder are the factors in our communities that affect people’s abilities to be healthy and safe, such as housing, employment and discrimination,” said Cathy Schultz, the director of the Governor’s Overdose Task Force. “Getting prevention and treatment resources into the community to prevent overdoses immediately is crucial. To do this, we must meet people where they are at and continue working to address these larger structural issues. Every single fatal overdose is a family member and member of our community, and these deaths are preventable.”

RIDOH said several state-level interventions such as mobile outreach, availability of naloxone and other harm-reduction tools, mobile medical treatment, recovery centers and prevention education may have contributed to the decrease in overdose deaths in the second half of 2022.

“The task force has a strategic plan to end the overdose crisis and ensure racial equity is embedded across all pillars of its work, including prevention, harm reduction and rescue, treatment and recovery,” said Dr. Utpala Bandy. “We are working to change lives by uplifting community voices, using data to drive change and building lasting connections to care.”