PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Governor Gina Raimondo set a goal in 2015 to reduce the number of accidental drug overdose deaths by one third in three years, but since then a potent and sometimes lethal opioid has emerged, making it impossible for the state to reach the objective.
Last year, Raimondo signed an executive order to form the Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force and appointed her senior advisor Tom Coderre to co-chair the group. He said the emergence of fentanyl means the governor’s goal three years ago “will not be achieved.”
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“Fentanyl came into the drug stream couple of years back and it changed the trajectory of the opioid crisis,” Coderre said during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers. “Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than traditional opioids; even a small amount of fentanyl can increase the dose someone is receiving of opioids and cause them overdose very, very quickly.”
But Coderre added Rhode Island is “one of the few states that actually saw a decline, so we know what we are doing is working.”
According to data from the R.I. Department of Health, there were 290 accidental overdose deaths in 2015, 336 in 2016, then it dropped to 323 in 2017.
“We are on track, hopefully, for another modest decrease this year,” said Coderre.
The state has implemented a “four pillar” plan that focuses on prevention, treatment, recovery and support, according to Coderre.
Among the changes is requiring patients who are prescribed opioids to also receive a dose of naloxone – commonly known by its commercial name Narcan – which is a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose.
Coderre – who is a recovering addict himself – said because addiction is a chronic illness not an acute one, the longer they can stay connected with people as they go through the recovery process, the better the outcome will likely be.
“We’re making sure we have trained peer recovery specialists because we know – because I know this personally as a person in recovery myself who has gone through this – somebody that can walk through that journey with you who has been through it before and knows how to get to the other side of it, is really critical,” he said.