Drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island in 2018 declined for the second year in a row, the state Department of Health reported on Wednesday.
But officials warned against complacency as the department launched a new media campaign “designed to reduce the misuse and abuse of opioid pain medications by Rhode Islanders ages 18 to 50.”
According to the Health Department, there were 314 overdose deaths in Rhode Island last year, compared to 324 in 2017 and 336 in 2016. From 2017 to 2018, the department recorded a 4.2% decrease in overdose deaths related to opioids.
Still, the department reported in statistics reflective of the nation’s drug crisis, “between 2009 and 2016, we saw a 143% increase, 138 vs. 336, in all overdose deaths in Rhode Island.”
In a media release, the department cited several factors in the recent decline and gave credit to initiatives sparked or supported by Gov. Gina Raimondo’s Rhode Island Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force.
“Partnering with healthcare providers to make sure that prescribing is happening safely and judiciously, while making sure that people with chronic health issues get the medication they need,” was among them, along with “putting in place the first comprehensive medication-assisted therapy program in any correctional system in the United States” at the Department of Corrections.
Also, according to the Health Department, “scaling up primary prevention programs in schools and other community settings, creating new pathways for people in recovery to get good careers, working to ensure that our resources are getting to more diverse populations [and] opening up treatment centers, known as Centers of Excellence, throughout the state.”
“We still have an enormous amount of work ahead of us,” Tom Coderre, senior advisor to Raimondo, said. “However, after seeing our drug overdose death totals increase for more than a decade, we have now seen a decline for two years in a row. That is tangible momentum for us to build on as we continue working in the areas of prevention, treatment, rescue, and recovery.”
Said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, Health Department director: “Any one overdose is too many. We can’t bring back the people who we have tragically lost to this epidemic. But we can honor them and love them as a community by doing everything we can to prevent any additional drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island and save as many lives as we can. Addiction is a disease. Recovery is possible.”
The new awareness campaign “features information on the risks of opioids, how they affect the body, and how they interact with substances like alcohol,” the department said. It includes social media and digital components and a web site, OvertheDoseRI.org.
“The campaign is based on formative research that revealed that high-risk young adults ages 18 to 25 perceived opioids as carrying little to no risk for occasional, recreational use because they did not know what opioids are or how opioids could harm them,” according to the department.
“We need to continue to work to get primary prevention activities into every community in Rhode Island, and to make sure that treatment and recovery resources are available to anyone who is ready to get on the road to recovery,” said Rebecca Boss, director of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.
“We know that, through a combination of behavioral therapies, medication, and community support, recovery is absolutely possible for any Rhode Islander who is living with substance-use disorder.”