RI on track to record most overdose deaths this year

A local doctor says they are now struggling to keep up with the demand on substance abuse services.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) -The Rhode Island Department of Health says the state is on pace to record the most fatal overdoses this year than any other year.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has completely changed our lives and killed more than 1000 Rhode Islanders, another epidemic has been silently worsening in the state: the drug crisis.

“These are precious lives. The stressors and isolation of the Covid-19 pandemic have certainly contributed to these numbers,” said RIDOH Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. “We are now on a path to exceed our 2016 total by more than 25 percent.”

A local doctor says they are now struggling to keep up with the demand on substance abuse services.

“It’s tragic. And alarming,” said Chief of Addiction Services at Butler Hospital Dr. Kevin Baill. “I think we have sort of alarm fatigue. But these numbers – we haven’t seen.”

According to data from the DOH, 268 people have died from drug overdoses in the state since the beginning of the year, with two months to go. And the data for the last three months isn’t finished yet.

“Our services, and I think the services around the state, which were already operating at or near capacity – we’re now struggling to keep up with the demand,” said Dr. Baill.

According to Dr. Baill, the main factors driving this surge are the pandemic, combined with a lot of fentanyl in the illegal drug supply.

“We’re definitely seeing a fair number of people coming to our hospital and testing positive for fentanyl, who have never even heard of fentanyl,” said Dr. Baill.

Dr. Baill also noting that there may have been hesitation to go to the hospital for drug issues during the height of the pandemic.

All of these things, adding up to a more than 25 percent increase in fatal overdoses compared to this time last year.

“There was a lot that was going on for the better in Rhode Island and unfortunately we’ve lost some ground,” said Dr. Baill.

He also noted however that the pandemic has created more access to substance abuse services virtually for those who need help going into 2021.

“If people are out there and they’re feeling isolated, there are ways to reach out, more than there were before,” said Dr. Baill.

According to the DOH, 2016 was the last year which saw such high numbers.

The state is currently focusing on increased outreach in overdose hot spots, and help with housing for vulnerable populations to work on bringing these numbers down.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can find more information here.

Categories: News, Regional News, Rhode Island