State works to fight ‘overdose epidemic’

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(WPRI) – The state’s top health officials are calling it an ‘overdose epidemic’ as statistics show Rhode Islanders are dying from overdoses at one of the highest rates in the country.

According to the Department of Health, 27 Rhode Islanders have died of a drug overdose this year alone — which equals nearly one death each day.

Survivors and Rhode Island’s top doctor say it is up to family and friends to stop the trend. Recovering addicts Amanda Bradford, Dana Healey, and Dennis Dutra tell Eyewitness News they want to keep others off the path that almost killed them.

“So many people are out there living the same way now and they don’t have to,” said Dutra.

That message was echoed by state police and the Rhode Island Department of Health, who called an emergency press conference after a series of overdose deaths last month.

Dr. Michael Fine says there’s no easy answer, because the overdoses involved victims of all ages, using many different drugs, and in 13 different communities.

“This is not something that we know the cause, there are probably many causes. We know we have a tough economy, we know we have relative easy access to what’s illicit,” he said.

In response, health officials are issuing a warning to family and friends of anyone with addition problems to get involved, and get them to seek treatment.

“I really think its people thinking about their families and their friends and understanding you can’t wait for them to fix it themselves,” said Dr. Fine.

The Department also wants Rhode Islanders to be aware of Narcan, an over-the-counter drug that could help reverse an opiate overdose. It’s sprayed into the nose of a victim and health officials say it can buy valuable time until an ambulance arrives.

Using Narcan kits is something Dutra swears by.

“If more people had these kits, I think the death rate would drop,” he said.

State police want residents to be aware of a Good Samaritan law passed in 2012 that protects people from minor drug violations when they call 911 if someone is having an overdose.

Their message is make the call – it could save a life.

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