A decrease in overdoses, but deadly opioid epidemic persists in RI

This Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 photo shows tablets of ibuprofen in New York. A study released on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 found that over-the-counter pills worked as well as opioids at reducing severe pain for emergency room patients with broken bones and sprains. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — It’s a step in the right direction: the state of Rhode Island has seen a nine percent decrease in opioid overdose deaths, comparing the first eight months of 2017 to the same time last year.

But at a meeting Tuesday about the progress the state is making in fighting the opioid epidemic, Gov. Gina Raimondo said the state isn’t doing a ‘victory lap’ — and the fight is far from over.

“It’s a slight ray of hope,” she said. “What we are doing seems to be working.”

The governor’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force made the announcement at the Cranston location of addiction treatment organization CODAC.

From January to August 2017, there were 208 accidental drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island, down from 227 overdose deaths in the state during the same period in 2016.

Raimondo said it’s a sign that initiatives are making a difference — like peer recovery coaches, and increased access to Naloxone, the generic form of the drug overdose antidote Narcan.

But addiction is still a disease that has hurt too many Rhode Island families, she said.

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“My daughter had her first Percocet at age 16,” said Karen Kaplan. “From that day on, life as we knew it was over… She went from Percocet to heroin, to crack cocaine, seemingly overnight.

“In reality, we went through eight years of sheer terror.”

But after her daughter’s struggle with addiction, she’s had success getting help. Christmas Eve 2017 marks three-and-a-half years drug-free, she said: “She is working, she is in college — getting all A’s, I might add — and self-supporting. She has her goals and aspirations back. And I have my daughter back.”

Raimondo said the state will ramp up efforts on awareness and prevention adding that it’s a struggle to destigmatize addiction.

Despite the decrease from last year, there are still more overdose deaths than there were in 2015, the task force said. Fentanyl continues to rise in use; 59 percent of overdose deaths this year were related to fentanyl.