EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Department of Health recorded an increase in opioid overdose activity, prompting the agency to place a region of the state on alert.
The Health Department published new data from their Opioid Overdose Integrated Surveillance System, which records emergency department (ED) visits and emergency medical services (EMS) runs for 10 regions across the state. The data covers non-fatal overdoses.
The alert is for Region 9, which surpassed the threshold of ED visits and matched it for EMS runs between March 6 and 12.
Region 9 includes East Greenwich, West Greenwich, Exeter, Richmond, and Hopkinton. The weekly threshold for the area is two, and the data shows they recorded fewer than 5 during the seven-day period.
Region 8 also met the threshold for ED visits. This region is comprised of Jamestown, Bristol, Warren, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, and Barrington.
Dr. Jim McDonald, the Health Department’s interim director, told 12 News that even small, rural communities are affected by the opioid epidemic.
“When you think of illicitly manufactured drugs, they’re not quality controlled like pharmaceutical drugs, so you see this exacerbation in regions throughout the state from time to time,” McDonald explained.
The threshold for activity in each region can fluctuate weekly. The surveillance system is meant to alert first responders and organizations of an increase in opioid overdose activity and allows them to take additional measures, like providing naloxone to people at risk, the Health Department said.
“We should feel like law enforcement should know, EMS should know, fire should know, the hospitals should know. It’s really just letting people know there’s an increased activity in your area,” McDonald said.
Health Department spokesperson Joseph Wendelken told 12 News it’s still too early to tell what could have caused the spike in Region 9, but noted that fentanyl and counterfeit pills often pay a role in increased overdose activity.
McDonald said the opioid epidemic is a regional, statewide and national problem, but he hopes safe injection sites can help prevent fatal and non-fatal overdoses.
It’s estimated that more than 400 people in the state died of an accidental drug overdose in 2021, which would be the most recorded in a single year.
12 News reporter Matt Paddock contributed to this report.