PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — New data released Wednesday showed the full extent of the pandemic’s impact on the opioid crisis.
Accidental drug overdose deaths increased both nationally and regionally in 2020, according to the R.I. Department of Health, which released the final overdose data for the year during a virtual briefing on Wednesday.
After Rhode Island saw an 8.3% decrease in overdose deaths from 2016 to 2019, there was an increase of 25% in the year that followed, from 308 in 2019 to 384 in 2020, the data shows.
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The increase started in December 2019 and accelerated as the pandemic worsened, reaching a high during mid-June 2020.
The Health Department’s 24/7 treatment hotline is (401) 606-5456. It connects the caller to a doctor, with no insurance necessary.
Based on residency data, Providence and the surrounding areas had the highest overdose fatality rates.
Jennifer Koziol, the Health Department’s drug overdose prevention program administrator, said the R.I. 10,000 Chances Project has distributed more than 10,000 intranasal naloxone (Narcan) kits throughout the pandemic.
“This was an opportunity in late 2020 to saturate our highest-risk communities with over 10,000 Narcan kits, and we had this opportunity to address the recent spike in overdose deaths,” she said.
The most kits were distributed in Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket and Warwick, according to Koziol.
To request delivery of a free Narcan kit to your home, visit preventoverdoseri.org and complete the five-minute training session.
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The data shows that fatal overdoses where an opioid such as fentanyl contributed to the cause of death increased by 27%, from 256 in 2019 to 324 in 2020.
Three out of four overdose deaths in 2020 were among men, with the highest proportion among people ages 25 years and older, but ages ranged from from 17 to 76.
Every age group saw an increase in 2020, with people between the age of 45 and 54 seeing the greatest increase at 81%.
In 2019 and 2020, Rhode Island’s Black community had the highest rate of fatal overdoses, compared to its white and Hispanic populations. This group also saw the greatest increase in the overall rate of overdoses.
“There is a gap that needs to be bridged to ensure that our Hispanic and Black and indigenous community realize that there are people who care and that are concerned about their well-being,” Dennis Bailer from Project Weber/RENEW said during Wednesday’s briefing.
Additionally, 90% of overdoses occurred in private settings, with 86% happening in the victim’s homes, according to the data.
The proportion of fatal overdoses involving only prescription medication has decreased over time, with the majority (72%) involving illicit drugs only.
The proportion in which alcohol contributed to the death remained relatively stable, but has increased in recent years, health officials added. It was involved in one in three deaths last year, according to the Health Department’s Drug Overdose Surveillance Program Acting Manager Rachel Scagos.
Fentanyl was involved in about three out of four overdoses in 2020, a slight decline from 2018 and 2019.
Cocaine-involved overdoses also increased from around 25% in 2019 to more than 50% 2020. Three out of four cocaine-involved deaths also involved fentanyl.
“As a reminder, this data cannot tell us intentionality of drug use or drug use behavior, but can tell us what contributed to cause of death,” Scagos added.
The Health Department noted the report covered drug overdose deaths that were an accident and did not include those considered suicides, homicides or undetermined deaths. This is determined based on autopsy results, toxicology testing, scene investigation and medical history.