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Policy & Politics

Rhode Island Gov. Unveils Plan To Reduce Overdose Deaths

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The plan, developed by a task force of experts, calls for decreasing the number of overdose deaths by a third in three years. 

In the past few years, deaths from illicit drug overdose have climbed 50 percent in Rhode Island. One major reason: fentanyl, a drug 50 times as potent as heroin that’s being mixed into the heroin supply. Today, Gov. Gina Raimondo unveiled new initiatives to combat the rising number of deaths.

The plan is broken into four parts: prevention, rescue, treatment, and recovery. Some of it will require legislation, some will require the participation of multiple stakeholders.

Prevention
On the prevention side, the plan calls for stricter standards for prescribing addictive opioid painkillers and other drugs and greater participation by doctors in the state's online prescription monitoring database. The goal: to prevent people from getting hooked on prescription painkillers (which is one of the most common pathways to eventual heroin use.

Rescue
On the rescue side, paramedics will now start asking overdose patients if they'd like to speak with a peer addiction recovery specialist - a new tactic designed to connect addicts with treatment as quickly as possible. Pharmacists and doctors will be encouraged to prescribe naloxone, the overdose rescue drug, with any opioid prescription. And more money has been made available to fund the state's supply of naloxone. State emergency rescue personnel have used the drug nearly 700 times so far this year to reverse overdoses, according to Jason Rhodes, head of the state's emergency services department.

Treatment
When it comes to treatment, a plan is in the works to make medication-assisted treatment available in the correctional system. That includes methadone or buprenorphine, two medications used to treat opioid addiction. Research shows newly released inmates are among those at highest risk for overdose. The state will also ask medical schools to train professionals in how to prescribe these medications, which requires a special certification. And there's a push to increase the number of doctors available to prescribe the medications.

Rhode Island Dept. of Health head Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott spoke about creating medication-assisted treatment "centers of excellence," places with doctors and mental health professionals where addicts could get started on treatment and then referred to a primary care doctor for maintenance.

Recovery
The recovery side of the plan includes expanding the number of peer recovery specialists. These "peer coaches" are often in recovery from substance abuse themselves and have special training to guide people with substance abuse through the process of seeking and sticking with treatment. Raimondo has asked for more than $1 million in the next budget to pay for increasing the ranks of these specialists.

You can read the plan here