PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The state of Rhode Island has taken another step forward in battling the overdose epidemic by providing drug users with tools they can use to potentially save lives.
As part of International Overdose Awareness Day, public health advocates were out across the state Friday distributing overdose prevention kits and educating drug users on how to combat an overdose.
Included in the kits were fentanyl test strips, making Rhode Island one of the first states in the nation to hand those out.
“The epidemic’s out of control,” Raymond Matteson said. “Like last three years, fentanyl being around. Deaths not only in Rhode Island, but all over America.”
Matteson told Eyewitness News he’s a heroin user and attended Friday’s outreach event because he wanted naloxone, an overdose-reversing drug that was also included in the kits.
“I just think it’s very important that this stuff be given out,” he added. “I struggle with addiction, and I don’t know, I feel safer with naloxone, I really do. It saves people’s lives.”
Matteson said he almost fell victim to an overdose last week and, unfortunately, family members before him have not been so lucky.
“I’ve had so many people in my nearby family die that didn’t have naloxone, and if they had naloxone, they’d be here now,” he said. “It’s kind of hard, hard to talk about.”
Health advocates hope the fentanyl strips and other items in the kits become part of users’ routines.
“We see that people use tools when we make them available,” Michelle McKenzie said.
McKenzie is a senior project director at The Miriam Hospital and co-founder of Preventing Overdose and Naloxone Intervention (PONI). She said beyond Friday’s outreach, she expects several organizations to have the strips to distribute, and to have tough conversations with the users who receive them.
“How are you going to prep your drugs to use the strip?” McKenzie asked rhetorically. “Honestly, just the few conversations I’ve had, people are very willing to have those conversations.”