Drug overdose deaths decline in Rhode Island in 2018

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI/AP) — State health officials say the number of accidental drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island has continued to decline.

The Department of Health finalized the overdose statistics Wednesday. There were 314 overdose deaths in 2018, compared to 324 in 2017 and 336 in 2016.

The number of deaths started declining in 2017 after years of steady increases. State health officials have attributed it to changes in prescribing practices, a medication-assisted treatment program at the Department of Corrections and other initiatives recommended by an overdose prevention task force.

The department says fentanyl remains a huge challenge. The percentage of drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl increased from 5% in 2009 to 72% in 2018.

Health officials also launched a new public awareness campaign, called “Over the Dose RI,” to reduce the misuse of opioid pain medications.

The campaign is adapted from “Over the Dose VT,” a successful campaign by the Vermont Department of Health. Over the Dose RI aims to expand the educational messaging to Rhode Islanders up to age 50 and will continue through June 2019.

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