KINGSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — In an effort to help address the opioid crisis, a program developed at the University of Rhode Island aims to provide resources and education to those in Rhode Island’s rural communities about opioid misuse.
According to an estimate from the R.I. Department of Health (RIDOH), 308 Rhode Islanders died of an opioid-related overdose in 2019.
In the first quarter of 2020, RIDOH says Rhode Island saw a 22% increase in overdose deaths, compared with the first quarter of 2019.
In an effort to combat the crisis, specifically in rural communities around the state, URI launched the Community First Responder Program (CFRP).
CFRP offers free online courses on how to administer the overdose reversal drug, naloxone, also known as Narcan. It went live at the beginning of the year but program leaders changed in-person learning activities online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The program seeks to increase the capacity of URI’s Cooperative Extension faculty, staff, and volunteers to share science-based information with the public about opioid use disorder and how to recognize and respond to an opioid-related breathing emergency.
Once the training is completed, URI is able to mail participants a free Narcan kit.
Dr. Anita Jacobson is a clinical associate professor at URI’s College of Pharmacy, in addition to serving as the CFRP’s director. She’s also a practicing pharmacist since 1998.
Jacobson says it’s especially important family and friends of people who use opioids are trained to administer Narcan.
“If they don’t have Narcan at home, they could have a breathing emergency and their loved ones wouldn’t be able to save their life,” Jacobson said. “So, we want everyone who takes opioids for any reason to have Narcan, and the people who know them and are around them should know how to use it.”
She adds even if you don’t think you know anyone who takes opioids, it’s important to be equipped just in case you encounter someone having a bad reaction.
“We have heard numerous stories of people in the community who came across someone in their car, on the bus, or on an Amtrak train who was having a bad reaction to opioids,” Jacobson said.
Over the summer, in-person outreach began when the state entered different phases of its reopening plan. Program leaders have been set up at farmer’s markets and even CVS parking lots.
“We have distributed almost 2,500 kits in Rhode Island, so, we want to at least distribute that many in the upcoming year, and we’d like to distribute more,” Jacobson said. “It’s kind of like having a fire extinguisher. You hope you never need it, you hope you never have to use it, but you have it just in case.”
The program also offers separate resources specifically for healthcare professionals licensed in Rhode Island. This includes providers, pharmacists, nurses, social workers, and mental health counselors, who can earn free continuing education credits by taking the courses.
If an organization wants to train a group of people, the CFRP team says it’s ready to conduct 45-minute live group seminars over video conferencing.
Schools, community organizations, or workplaces can schedule a Webex seminar for groups by submitting a request on URI CFRP’s website.
Eligible towns for participation:
Barrington, Bristol, Burrillville, Charlestown, Coventry, Cumberland, Exeter, Foster, Glocester, Hopkinton, Jamestown, Johnston, Lincoln, Little Compton, Middletown, Narragansett, Newport, New Shoreham, North Kingstown, North Smithfield, Portsmouth, Richmond, Scituate, Smithfield, South Kingstown, Tiverton, Warren, Westerly, and West Greenwich
The project was supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the National Institutes of Health, and research has been approved by The University of Rhode Island Institutional Review Board.