Opioids: what are we missing?
Mel Rising Dawn Cordeiro
Anchor Staff Writer
It’s no secret that there is an opioid crisis both locally and nationally. Major news outlets report on this crisis all the time. From deaths to budgets to developments since the beginning of then-President Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs,” the opioid epidemic is indeed a crisis. How is Rhode Island impacted by this?
Data from 2014-2017 surrounding opioid use and overdoses provide an answer. The study listed here also looks at death rates until mid-2019. In 2018 alone, there were 314 deaths. At the time of publication in September 2019, there had already been 208 deaths. It’s important to note that these fatalities include people of all ages and do not differentiate between accidental and intentional overdoses.
During the month of February 2022, there were 96 Rhode Island residents in total who visited the emergency room for overdosing – and emergency medical personnel responded to 101 people. Even though this may seem like a high number, the Rhode Island Department of Health explains that these numbers are far below the pre-established threshold for the number of cases.
In 2017, former Governor Gina Raimondo signed an executive order she called the Overdose Prevention and Intervention Action Plan. Using this plan of action, $4 million was allocated to expand access to MAT, a type of treatment that uses mediation such as methadone, buprenorphine products and naltrexone. MAT is known to increase retention in treatment, help with social functioning and can reduce the risk of fatal overdose by 50% in those who use this treatment. The action plan also provides the general public with information on Naloxone or NarCan, and makes access to this acute treatment more readily available.
Although it is safe to go to any emergency room, especially after taking Naloxone, there are 13 treatment centers in the state. Fire departments are also safe zones for treatment and observation during usage and treatment. Despite there being many great hospitals in Rhode Island, one of the main issues with the opioid epidemic becomes access to emergency care. The vast majority of hospitals are located in or immediately around Providence, with Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket, Kent County Hospital in Warwick and South County Hospital in Wakefield being exceptions. If someone were to overdose in Charlestown for example, even if emergency services are called, the nearest hospital is still about a half hour’s drive away.
This epidemic is not something that will go away easily. Doctors will still prescribe opioids for pain and unfortunately, there will be someone somewhere who’ll abuse them – intentionally or not. There are efforts that police and doctors could take to remove and limit opioid access. However, the best course of action may be to ensure the safety of the person using them and to have a dose of NarCan on hand.
For any suspicion of overdose, call 911 immediately. If there is NarCan on hand and you’re able to safely administer it, you may do so. Otherwise, do your best to maintain a safe environment.