Overdoses down in RI; officials credit Narcan and new protocol

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – After several consecutive months of drastic spikes in drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island, the state can at last report an improvement.

From January to the end of May, 103 Rhode Islanders died from overdosing on drugs – particularly heroin. Thirty-three people overdosed in the month of January alone, putting the state on pace to dramatically surpass overdose numbers recorded in 2012.

But in May, the amount of fatal overdoses dropped to 10 – the lowest monthly total the state has recorded in four years.

“The overdose deaths have been a serious problem in the state of Rhode Island, and this year has been a terrible year,” Dr. James McDonald with the R.I. Dept. of Health said. With May’s encouraging news, though, McDonald said he hopes a new trend is emerging.

McDonald credited new efforts installed this year by the health department for the progress the state has made. He referenced new protocol that requires all overdoses – not just cases that end in fatalities – to be reported to state officials. McDonald said this new practice gives health officials a better idea of just how many people are overdosing.

McDonald also said training state and local police departments on issuing the overdose-reversal drug Narcan has helped save lives that might have otherwise been lost.

Even though numbers are dropping in Rhode Island, the drug overdose problem – often referred to this year as an “epidemic” by local officials – is a nationwide issue that is still heavily affecting New England towns and cities. In Massachusetts, for example, 154 deaths have been reported in just the city of Taunton alone.

“We’re cautiously optimistic, but only cautiously optimistic,” McDonald said of the Ocean State’s progress. “It’s only one month, but perhaps encouraging.”


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