PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — In its monthly meeting on Wednesday, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force released data on accidental overdose deaths for the first quarter of 2020.

Rachel Scagos, MPH, the Senior Public Health Epidemiologist at the Center for Health Data & Analysis at the R.I. Department of Health (RIDOH), says the report uses data from the Office of the State Medical Examiner (OSME) and only looks at accidental deaths for fatal overdoses during the first three months of the year.

Overdose Data

For all fatal drug overdoses — meaning any drug that contributed to a person’s death — data shows there was a 22% increase in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same time last year.

There were 77 fatal overdoses in the first quarter of 2019, according to the data, while there have been 94 fatal overdoses in the first three months of this year. It’s worth noting, there was a historically low number of fatal overdoses (66) in January 2018.

By race, 88% of overdose deaths were among white Rhode Islanders while 10% were Black Rhode Islanders. The proportion of fatal overdoses among people of Asian or unknown descents were not displayed due to small numbers.

By gender, data from OSME and RIDOH shows 80% of fatal overdoses occurred among males in the first quarter of 2020, compared to 73% in 2019 and 79% in 2018.

Taking a look at fatal overdoses by age group, the data showed a significant increase in deadly overdoses among 45- to 54-year-olds.

In terms of substances that contribute to the cause of death in Rhode Islanders, OSME and RIDOH found 84% involved any opioid in the first quarter of 2020, a figure that has stayed relatively stable over the last two years.

Fentanyl came in at 69%, down slightly from 2019. Cocaine attributed to 46% of deaths, down 5% from 2019.

As for next steps, Scagos recommended using geographic information system (GIS) heat maps to deploy street outreach teams to high-risk communities with harm-reduction resources. She also suggested increasing the availability of telehealth and medication assisted treatment (MAT) through the 24/7 Buprenorphine Hotline and BH Link.

Partnering with street outreach teams and community organizations was also recommended. Scagos said this would engage “hard-to-reach populations” and provide harm reduction, treatment and recovery resources.

She also recommended exploring data-sharing and collaborating to further inform overdose prevention efforts, in addition to reconvening RIDOH’s Review of Accidental Overdose Deaths (ROAD) Team to further understand emerging drug overdose death trends and provide recommendations for community-level interventions.

Dennis Bailer is the Overdose Prevention Program manager at Project Weber/RENEW in Providence, which provide a full range of harm reduction, recovery, and basic needs services, according to its website.

Bailer says while fentanyl is still a problem, carfentanil is being utilized more and he believes his staff has distributed more Narcan this year compared to last year as a result. He’s hoping the task force can come up with a comprehensive plan to address the synthetic opioid as well as “other strong analogs” on the street.


Corinna Roy, the director of Behavioral Healthcare at R.I. Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH), says prior to COVID-19, Rhode Islanders were not really utilizing telehealth, but it has proved to have numerous benefits including the removal of barriers like poor access to transportation or being unable to leave home due to child or elder care responsibilities.

She also noted that telehealth has been extremely successful for those who are disengaged, and says the ease of the service has provided a dramatic reduction in “no-shows,” as well as increased compliance for those with court orders.

Roy also offered a few policy considerations including payment parity, audio-only telehealth, and remote prescribing, to name a few.

The task force meets next on August 12.