- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 5, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Island’s health department is reporting an increase in accidental overdose deaths associated with the use of fentanyl, a powerful painkiller that’s been implicated in a string of fatal overdoses in the Northeast.

There were 27 overdose deaths in the state in January, up from 18 in January 2013 and 15 each in January 2012 and 2011. Fentanyl has turned up in 15 of the 23 cases screened, department spokesman James Palmer said.

Two additional fatal overdoses have been reported so far in Rhode Island in February.

A blend of heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic narcotic that is much more powerful than morphine, has been blamed for 22 recent overdose deaths in western Pennsylvania. On Long Island, the medical examiner’s office has been investigating several deaths initially assumed to be heroin overdoses but later found to have involved fentanyl.

It’s not clear how many of the Rhode Island deaths involved heroin. However, Craig Stenning, director of the state agency that oversees behavioral health, said some drug users are seeking out the mix.

“People are actually looking for this form of heroin that’s being mixed with fentanyl,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s being advertised as a stronger form.”

He added: “The obvious danger is overdose.”

His agency this week issued emergency regulations to address the increase in overdose deaths. They call for wider training at behavioral health facilities on overdose treatment, including the administration of the drug naloxone, which is used to reverse the effects of a heroin overdose. The new rules require the facilities to offer patients with a history of opiate abuse or dependence naloxone, also known as Narcan, to take home.

In screening tests conducted in the January overdoses, fentanyl was the only substance found in some individuals, according to Palmer. In other cases, it was found along with other drugs, including cocaine, opiates and benzodiazepines.

The deaths took place across the state. The victims ranged in age from 20 to 62; there were 19 men and eight women.

“For me, the issue isn’t whether it’s fentanyl or whether it’s heroin,” Dr. Michael Fine, the state health director, said. “It’s somebody’s shooting drugs, and somebody who’s shooting drugs has a risk of death - and a significant risk of death. Because nobody knows what they’re buying.”

Fine stressed that health officials don’t know a lot about how fentanyl is being used and where it’s coming from.

“Somehow we’ve developed an amnesia of what life was like 40 years ago,” he said, referring to a resurgence of intravenous drug use. “The message for today is, it’s come back and it’s come back with a vengeance.”

The state health department is working with federal drug officials to compare local samples of fentanyl with those seized elsewhere in the Northeast.

Officials said previously that a synthetic opiate identified as acetyl fentanyl that was linked to more than a dozen deaths in Rhode Island last year has not turned up in this year’s fatalities.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide