- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 22, 2017

WESTERLY, R.I. (AP) - Health officials say drug overdose deaths continue rising in Rhode Island, with a spike in fentanyl-related deaths last year.

The state health department said Wednesday that there were at least 326 drug overdose deaths in 2016, and 57 percent of those were fentanyl-related.

That’s compared with 290 deaths in 2015, of which about 47 percent were fentanyl-related.

The number of deaths caused by prescription drugs has dropped over five years. But deaths caused by illicit drug use are rising, with more overdoses caused by fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, said department spokesman Joseph Wendelken.

He tells The Westerly Sun that a task force is working on strategies to prevent people from developing substance use disorder and to intervene if they do. The number of overdose deaths could rise slightly as the department completes its 2016 data.



There have been three drug overdose deaths in the state so far this year and at least 1,271 overdose deaths in the last five years, Wendelken said.

The task force, created by Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, is implementing a plan to prevent people from developing substance use disorder. The plan calls for safer prescribing practices and prescription drug monitoring and more access to treatment for opioid addiction.

It’s also working to get an opioid overdose-reversal drug, naloxone, into communities and to strengthen the infrastructure for people in recovery -through recovery housing, for example - so they don’t relapse.

The budget passed by the General Assembly in June included $3.5 million of Raimondo’s $4 million request to prevent overdoses and treat addiction.

For fiscal year 2018, Raimondo hopes to maintain the $3.5 million investment from last year and invest $200,000 in a recovery housing initiative.

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Information from: The Westerly Sun, https://www.thewesterlysun.com

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