PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island has reached a grim milestone in its battle against opioids.
The Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force revealed Wednesday that 414 Rhode Islanders died of an accidental drug overdose last year, which is more than any other previously recorded year.
“This is the first time we ever seen 400 or more deaths in Rhode Island history,” Heidi Weidele, a fatal overdose epidemiologist for the R.I. Department of Health said.
The data, shared during a virtual meeting Wednesday, includes finalized overdose numbers from the first nine months of 2021, and preliminary data from the remaining three months.
Ana Novais, assistant secretary for the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services took a moment to pause the meeting after those numbers were shared.
“We’ve all said that those numbers were going up, but seeing them displayed this way brings it truly home how important the work we have ahead of us is,” Novais said.
“I don’t think that we have ever experienced this loss of life in our communities, and it’s important to recognize the loss of loved ones,” she continued. “Those are our neighbors, friends, coworkers or family for many of us.”
Weidele noted that the official year-end fatal overdose counts are expected to be finalized in the coming months.
Unfortunately, Weidele said this means that the number of overdose deaths will likely increase as the state Medical Examiner’s Office continues to determine the cause of death for Rhode Islanders between October and December.
“We have included preliminary counts for the final three months to communicate that we are already expecting an 8% increase in overdose fatalities compared to 2020,” she explained.
The finalized data reveals the deadliest months in 2021 were May and August, each recording 43 and 42 deaths respectively.
Preliminary data shows 41 accidental overdoses were recorded in October, followed by 40 in November and 23 in December.
From January to September, data shows there were 310 fatal overdoses in Rhode Island, and fatal overdoses for which any drug contributed in the first nine months of 2021 were 2% higher than in same time period in 2020.
However, fatal overdoses for any opioid, including fentanyl, that contributed to the cause of death from January to September 2021 were 6% higher than same period in 2020, according to the data.
Weidele noted that the proportion of fatal overdoses where fentanyl contributed to the cause of death was slightly higher during the first nine months of last year as compared to the same time period in 2020.