(WPRI) — The Rhode Island Department of Health has issued a potentially life-saving warning to residents, specifically in the eastern part of the state.
Health officials recorded a recent increase in non-fatal opioid overdoses in Barrington, Newport, Middletown, Little Compton, Tiverton, Portsmouth, Warren, Bristol and Jamestown.
The data was recently shown on RIDOH’s Opioid Overdose Integrated Surveillance System, which uses two data sets to identify and track statewide non-fatal opioid overdoses: emergency department (ED) visits and emergency medical services (EMS) runs.
Region 8, which is highlighted in red, is considered to be on high alert for exceeding the pre-established ED data threshold.
The state evaluates overdose numbers each week and found this past week in the East Bay, there were fewer than 5 non-deadly overdoses from opioids, which is higher than the threshold of one for that region.
Regions 1 and 5 are at the threshold for opioid overdose activity. Region 1, which is compromised of Burrillville, Foster, Glocester and Scituate, had fewer than five reports of ED visits. Region 5, which is compromised of Central Falls, Pawtucket and East Providence, had 10 reports of EMS runs.
RIDOH Interim Director Dr. James McDonald said it’s a statewide issue.
“See something that’s unusual, what we do is we alert our partners, we feel like law enforcement should know, EMS should know, fire departments should know, the hospitals should know, healthcare providers should know, and that’s really just letting people know, ‘hey, there’s increased activity in your area,'” he explained.
McDonald previously said he hopes safe injection sites can help prevent fatal and non-fatal overdoses.
“If you have an area that experiences a low number of overdoses then suddenly they experience four or five, it can seem like a low number, but if they’re used to experiencing zero or one, that really is a spike,” said Colleen Daley Ndoye, executive director of the overdose prevention organization Project Weber/RENEW.
Ndoye said alerts like these warn drug users that something unusual could be happening.
“[It’s] to inform people who might use drugs that potentially there could be some dangerous drugs in the region and to be aware, to access harm reduction materials, or to access other help or supplies or making sure that you’re gonna be using with a friend or not using alone,” Ndoye said.
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.
Ndoye said the numbers are continuing to rise in 2022. She said her organization, which has boots on the ground across the state, is seeing an increasingly poisoned drug supply.
“People who are buying stimulants such as cocaine and meth, it’s increasingly being contaminated with fentanyl, and so people don’t know what they’re buying and people we’re seeing more and more people who are overdosing on drugs that are not opioids,” she said.
Project Weber/RENEW is doing what they can, she said, but there’s “not enough of anything.”
“There’s not enough treatment beds, there’s not enough detox beds,” Ndoye explained.
She hopes the $45 million the state is getting in an opioid settlement will help, and she wants to see that money invested wisely.
“Whether it’s opening harm reduction centers, or whether it’s, again, increasing access, from A-to-Z we really need to do it all,” Ndoye said.
If someone you care about is using drugs, you can do some important things to help:
- Learn the signs of an overdose and how to respond.
- Always have the overdose reversal medicine, naloxone (Narcan), readily available. Request a free naloxone kit and have it shipped to your address for free. You can also get naloxone from a local pharmacy without a prescription from a healthcare provider.
- Connect your loved one to care. Even if your loved one does not want to seek treatment for substance use, encourage them to visit a healthcare provider or clinic to be tested for hepatitis C and HIV, or have other health conditions treated.