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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The opioid epidemic continues to take a deadly toll in Rhode Island, newly released data shows, despite increased prevention efforts.

The R.I. Department of Health revealed Wednesday that 434 people in the state died of an accidental drug overdose last year, just one fewer than in 2021, which was the most ever recorded.

“The number of drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island had been increasing since 2019, largely because of a more lethal drug supply locally and nationally,” the Health Department wrote in a news release. “This plateauing in 2022 was the result of a significant reduction in the rate of overdose deaths in the second half of the year.”

According to health officials, overdose deaths decreased by 13% in the second half of last year compared to the first half.

Data shows there was a “disproportionate” number of overdoses among men, people in the 25–54 age range, and Black non-Hispanic Rhode Islanders.

The rate of fatal overdoses among Hispanic/Latino Rhode Islanders increased by 50% from 2021 to 2022, the data also showed.

“My heart breaks for each and every person who has lost a loved one to this epidemic. We owe it to the Rhode Islanders who have passed, and to their families, to do everything possible to prevent any additional overdose deaths,” Gov. Dan McKee said.

Most overdoses (84%) occurred in private settings, according to the Health Department. Fentanyl was involved in 75% of overdose deaths, officials said, while cocaine was involved in 50%.

The Health Department said that state-level efforts like outreach, mobile treatment, recovery centers, and the increased availability of naloxone and other harm-reduction tools may have contributed to the decline in deaths in the second half of 2022.

“We have many new interventions in place to respond to the dynamic nature of this crisis,” McKee added. “We have to keep innovating and collaborating with our partners in the community to do everything we can to prevent overdoses, save lives, and improve the quality of life for Rhode Islanders.”

Those new interventions include the following:

  • Opioid settlement funds: The Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) and its partner state agencies have allocated approximately $20 million Opioid Settlement and Stewardship funds for FY23 and FY24.
  • Overdose prevention center: EOHHS has contracted with Project Weber/RENEW to support the opening of one of the nation’s first overdose prevention centers. The center will be a place for people to use pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of medical professionals and trained staff, as well as to get connected to harm reduction, treatment, and recovery support services.
  • Targeted text messaging campaign: In February, RIDOH began sending targeted text message alerts to people in communities with increased overdose activity based on weekly data from RIDOH’s Opioid Overdose Integrated Surveillance System.
  • Increased outreach within the Hispanic/Latino community: In response to the increase within the Hispanic/Latino community, the State is doing increased messaging in Spanish (educational materials, paid media, social media) warning about the dangers of fentanyl, xylazine, and other substances. Additional educational materials are being created in Spanish on how to access naloxone.  

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