PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The opioid epidemic knows no prejudice. It impacts everyone, no matter their age, race, socioeconomic status or gender. But the stigma surrounding it inhibits many from getting the help and treatment they need.
The Drug Enforcement Agency last week released its 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment, which showed an increase in deaths across the country due to overdoses on prescription pills and fentanyl. Most times, addicts are taking heroin and do not know it’s laced with fentanyl, which leads to an opioid dosage they can’t handle and often leads to death.
“The DEA has a major problem on their hands. They’re in charge of enforcing drug laws and they’re failing abysmally,” Dr. Jody Rich said Friday.
Dr. Rich is the director of The Miriam Hospital’s Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, as well as an advisor to Gov. Gina Raimondo’s overdose prevention task force. He said the DEA is wrong in focusing its efforts on disrupting drug distribution rings, explaining that when an addict’s usual dealer is arrested, that addict will find another dealer but won’t know exactly what’s in the drugs being purchased. That could mean death if the drug surpasses that person’s tolerance.
“In 2017, overdose deaths in the state were slightly lower than 2016 and 2018 is about on track to be leveled off,” Dr. Rich added. “That is not good because that’s a lot of deaths, over 300 a year.”
There is no easy solution, according to Dr. Rich, but he said Raimondo’s opioid task force is focusing on four key components and while one death is one too many, they are finding a decrease in the rate of deaths from opioids.
Those components are treatment, prevention, recovery and rescue. Of note, law enforcement is not on the list of top priorities. Dr. Rich believes arresting people with drugs does not solve the problem and instead adds to the stigma. He says opioid addiction should be viewed as an illness like diabetes or cancer and be treated as such: with medicine.
Even medication, like methadone, causes a stigma. Dr. Rich said.
“The medications are not perfect, but they are by far the best thing we have,” he said.
On Wednesday, Nov. 14, a new first-of-its-kind facility in Rhode Island, BH Link, will open to the public on Waterman Avenue in East Providence. The facility, which will be open 24/7, is the first step in the state’s effort to bring all mental health resources together to make real change and save lives.