Known as the Plantation State to some and the Ocean State to others, Rhode Island is recognized for its beachside locale and nautical feel. Every summer, people from all walks of life flock to the coastline of this small but beautiful state. Amidst its beauty and vibrant culture, drug abuse is a serious issue in Rhode Island.
Substance Abuse in Rhode Island
Drug abuse and addiction are prevalent and problematic in Rhode Island. The number of drug overdoses in the state is rising each year, and opioid addiction has become an epidemic. It is undoubtedly the biggest drug problem in the state. Alongside heroin, prescription opioid pain relievers are the most problematic issue the justice and healthcare systems face in Rhode Island.
Neighboring Massachusetts hasn’t improved things for Rhode Island. The state next door had 1,574 confirmed unintentional deaths due to opioid overdoses in 2015 alone, per the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The problem of opioid abuse isn’t limited to Rhode Island as many states in the region are experiencing the ill effects of the epidemic.
The Department of Health and Human Services notes that 40 percent of high school students in Rhode Island admitted to having used marijuana per a 2011 survey. Marijuana isn’t just a problem for teenagers though. In fact, The New York Times reported that Rhode Island took the lead in the nation for rates of marijuana abuse in 2008 at 10.3 percent and alcohol use at 63.1 percent.
With opioid abuse such a problem in Rhode Island, people often unknowing take stronger opioids in an effort to get a quick fix. It isn’t unusual for people who use heroin to end up hooked on fentanyl, since dealers may cut heroin or prescription painkillers with the drug in order to increase the potency more cheaply. Fentanyl is actually 30-50 times stronger than heroin, and around 50-100 times more potent than morphine, per CNN.
The Rhode Island cities boasting the highest rates of drug abuse and overdose are:
- South Kingstown
Other Rhode Island cities with smaller, but still noteworthy, issues of opioid overdose, ranging from one to 10 deaths per year include:
- West Greenwich
- East Greenwich
Overdose in Rhode Island
According to Prevent Overdose Rhode Island, Providence ranks highest for drug overdoses in Rhode Island, surpassing all of these cities with its more than 50 drug overdoses in 2015. The prescription painkiller fentanyl appears to be the state’s largest culprit of drug overdose.
The State of Rhode Island Department of Health reports 124 of the 236 drug overdose deaths that occurred between January and November 2016 involved this potent opioid pain reliever. That’s more than 52 percent.
In 2015, 47 percent of the 258 drug overdose deaths that occurred in the state involved fentanyl, per WPRI News.
The rate at which fentanyl has been involved in drug overdose deaths in the state has increased more than 15-fold since 2009. One of the most popular forms of this drug — the transdermal pain patch — is highly abused. Some individuals in desperate need of a fix have even been known to eat the patches to achieve a stronger high.
Perhaps what makes this epidemic most worrisome is that there is no geographic concentration when it comes to fentanyl overdose; the issue is widespread throughout the state and bordering states.
The majority of the drug trade in the state comes through from gangs like the Bloods and Crips or Latin Kings, and via urban areas like Providence. As the state branches out into more rural areas, drug overdose statistics decrease.
A big part of the problem isn’t illicit drugs though; legitimate prescriptions are at the root of much of the problem. Often, opioid pain relievers are prescribed for far longer than necessary. The National Safety Council notes that 99 percent of prescribing physicians go beyond the three-day dosage limitation that is recommended for opioids like fentanyl.
Statewide Alcohol Abuse
Many who engage in drug abuse also engage in heavy alcohol abuse, and Rhode Islanders are no stranger to binge drinking. The state ranks third in the entire country for deaths caused by alcohol poisoning, according to the Providence Journal. Per America’s Health Rankings, men binge drink more than women in the Plantation State, with 25.2 percent of males admitting it compared to just 12.1 percent of females.
When there is rampant substance abuse, there are generally additional factors that have impacted a situation or geographic area to make the population more likely to engage in that abuse. Sometimes it’s an individual’s upbringing, but often it is poverty or a bad economy that spur drug and alcohol abuse at alarming levels. The Brown Daily Herald had a valid point when they reported that Rhode Island had a 7.1 percent unemployment rate in 2015 — the fourth highest in the country.
Crime is a big part of what stimulates or holds back a local economy, and Rhode Island has plenty of it, especially when it comes to drugs. In 2001, 39.2 percent of all federal sentences were related to drug crimes in Rhode Island, per the National Drug Intelligence Center. In 2014, 80 percent of all drug crime that police investigated in Providence involved heroin, per WPRI.
Hope for the Future
While there is no shortage of drugs in Rhode Island, there is no shortage of help for recovery either. In fact, the state houses some of the best treatment facilities in the country. The White House reported on 2010 statistics that showed heroin led admissions to rehab in Rhode Island that year, followed closely by marijuana.
When it comes to opioid addiction treatment in the state, treatment with methadone is plentiful but rehab facilities in Rhode Island currently don’t dispense buprenorphine. Rhode Island Governor’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force estimates that more than 20,000 people in the state are suffering from opioid dependence and not getting help via a methadone maintenance program. These people could benefit greatly from comprehensive care that could enable them to overcome their addiction.
The good news is that help is available in Rhode Island for those who are in the midst of a drug crisis due to addiction. They simply need to reach out for that help.