‘We’re devastated by it, but we’re not surprised’: Accidental drug overdose deaths increased by 25% in 2020

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – The Ocean State reached a somber record last year, hitting the highest number of fatal overdoses in a single year. In 2020, accidental drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island increased by 25%, according to data from the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH).

A breakdown of the fatal overdoses data in the state was shared Wednesday morning as Governor Dan McKee’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force met virtually.

The state saw 384 fatal overdoses in 2020, up from 308 in 2019. People as young as 17 and as old as 76 died of accidental overdoses last year.

“People between the ages of 45 and 54 suffered the greatest increase of burden. The rate of fatal overdose among those ages, 45 to 54, increased by 81% comparing the rate in 2018 to the rate in 2020.”

The rate of fatal overdoses among Black and non-Hispanic populations increased from 2018 to 2020, and the cities that saw the most fatal overdoses were Providence, Woonsocket, Warwick, Pawtucket, and Cranston.

One in three accidental overdose deaths in 2020 involved alcohol, while one in two involved cocaine. Fentanyl was responsible for the highest number of deaths, with approximately three out of four fatal overdoses involving the drug.

“We recognize that every single person who has died is somebody’s family member, is somebody’s friend, is somebody’s loved one. And so we’re devastated by it, but we’re not surprised,” said Colleen Daley Ndoye, executive director of Project Weber/RENEW.

Project Weber/RENEW is a peer-based harm reduction and recovery services organization and is one of several working closely with RIDOH to do outreach.

The organization received a grant last year from RIDOH and used it to expand its outreach services by adding additional staff and outreach vans. They center their efforts in Providence, Central Falls, and Pawtucket.

Ndoye said they have 16 people doing street outreach every day.

“From basic needs, food, water, basic hygiene kits, all the way to naloxone, to needle exchange kits, to condoms, to sometimes clothing.”

Ndoye said, while fentanyl is becoming more of a problem, there are other factors at play for why 2020 was a record-setting year.

“We’ve seen the fentanyl in the system rising within all sorts of different drugs. We’ve seen, you know, the disruption due to covid. We’ve seen just a lot of instability in people’s lives which can lead to taking drugs that you’re not used to, which can lead to an overdose.”

For more information and resources on preventing overdoses in the state, click here.

© WLNE-TV 2021

Categories: News, Pawtucket, Providence, Regional News, Rhode Island