Cranston, Rhode Island, is a small city with a population of around 80,000 people. This New England town has been voted one of the 50 Best Places to Live, according to 24/7 Wall Street. Part of the city’s appeal is its picturesque location on Narragansett Bay. Cranston is also conveniently near the state’s capital city, Providence, and is currently considered a suburb of that larger metropolitan area. Cranston boasts beautiful landscapes and numerous historic sites dating back to European settlement and Native American villages in the area.

Although Cranston is a lovely, quaint city, the area struggles with substance abuse and addiction, like the rest of Rhode Island. Opioids, marijuana, alcohol, and mental health problems all lead to serious legal issues and criminal activity. Because of the city’s proximity to Providence, much of the capital city’s problems spill over into suburban Cranston. The suburb has a high poverty rate at 11.6 percent.

Providence has the second highest Medicare enrollment, too. With so many elderly individuals in the area, higher poverty and chronic illnesses, including mental illness and substance abuse, lead to long-term strain on the economy.

Cranston Rhode Island

Substance Abuse in Cranston and Rhode Island

In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that Rhode Island ranked third, out of all 50 states, for alcohol poisonings and first in illicit drug abuse. The high rates of dangerous substance abuse may relate to the ongoing problem with unemployment in the small state; at 7.1 percent, Rhode Island claims the fourth highest rate of unemployment in the United States. The high rates of drug abuse, overdoses or poisonings, and related deaths appeared correlated to the problem of unemployment, as most of the individuals who struggled with addiction and overdose were adults, typically around middle age.

Cranston’s Struggle with Opioids

Cranston’s Struggle with Opioids

Cranston, and other areas in the greater Providence metropolitan area, have struggled with opioid abuse and overdose problems in the community for decades. A report in 2015 found that, after fentanyl had been introduced into heroin, leading to an increasing string of deadly heroin/fentanyl overdoses, Providence heroin dealers began bragging about how potent, and therefore toxic, their heroin supply was.

Although opioid overdose has killed thousands of people across the United States, this frightening marketing tactic worked. In 2014, the Providence Police Department’s Intelligence and Organized Crime Bureau (PPD IOCB) reported that 80 percent of their investigations involved sales of heroin. There were 239 opioid overdose deaths in Rhode Island in 2014, up 73 percent from 2009.

Alcohol Abuse and Rhode Island

The CDC’s 2015 findings for Rhode Island uncovered that most alcohol poisonings involved non-Hispanic white males, between the ages of 35 and 64. A shocking 70 percent involved binge drinkers rather than heavy drinkers; this suggests that many of those who suffered from alcohol poisoning from binge drinking were middle aged, not the group normally associated with this kind of risky behavior. However, depression and anxiety related to being unemployed may play a part in this pattern of alcohol abuse.

The remaining 30 percent of adults 35-64 years old who died due to alcohol poisoning were, the CDC reported, people struggling with alcohol use disorder. The report noted that people in this age group who struggled with untreated alcohol addiction were the most likely to die due to their addiction, as the disease had progressed to the point of consuming dangerous amounts of alcohol. A 2017 report found that 17 percent of Cranston residents drank excessively, which includes both binge drinking and heavy drinking, and 36.8 percent of deadly car accidents involved a drunk driver.

Alcohol Abuse and Rhode Island

Rhode Island’s Illicit Drug Struggle

One report found that, among those being treated at Clinical Services of Rhode Island, most claimed that marijuana was their gateway drug into further substance abuse. In general, those who abuse marijuana are more likely to abuse several substances, including hallucinogens, alcohol, and stimulants. While the concept of marijuana as a gateway drug is beginning to fade, for many, abusing marijuana can lead to struggles with other kinds of substances.

Rhode Island has not legalized medical or recreational marijuana. Possession, distribution, and intoxication related to marijuana are all crimes.

Adolescents in Cranston, RI

Children and teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 are especially susceptible to taking drugs and ultimately becoming addicted to them. The body and brain change greatly during this time, and the transition from elementary school into more strenuous middle school and high school means that teenagers are under a great deal of stress. Social, emotional, and physical changes occur on a regular basis. Peer pressure may encourage kids to experiment with substances, and those who begin abusing drugs at an early age are more likely to struggle with addiction later in life.

In Rhode Island, 22 percent of middle schoolers reported, in a 2013 survey, that they had ever tried alcohol; 19 percent reported that they had been in a vehicle, at least once, with a person who had been drinking, which may include parents, guardians, other adult relatives, older siblings, or friends. Additionally, 9 percent reported that they had tried marijuana at least once; 6 percent reported ever trying prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons; and 3 percent reported trying cocaine at least once.

Among high school students surveyed:

  • 40 percent reported every trying marijuana
  • 24 percent consumed marijuana one or more times in the month prior to the survey
  • 14 percent reported trying prescription drugs for recreational reasons
  • 5 percent reported trying cocaine
  • 31 percent reported consuming alcohol
  • 15 percent reported binge drinking
  • 20 percent had been driven by a person intoxicated by alcohol in the month before the survey

Between 2011 and 2012, 4 percent of adolescents in the state of Rhode Island reported needing, but not receiving, substance abuse treatment. This was the 14th highest rate among all states in the US.

In Cranston, the Kids Count 2013 survey found that among middle schoolers in the district:

  • 6 percent currently abused alcohol
  • 5 percent had ever abused marijuana
  • 3 percent had ever recreationally abused prescription drugs
  • 2 percent were current cigarette smokers

Among Cranston high school students:

  • 31 percent abused alcohol currently
  • 40 percent ever abused marijuana
  • 16 percent tried nonmedical abuse of prescription drugs once
  • 12 percent smoked cigarettes currently

Cranston, RI, and Mental Health Conditions

According to the Rhode Island Behavioral Health Project, overseen by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), Rhode Island has higher rates of mental and behavioral disorders than other states in the New England area. Family history and higher rates of stress, especially in children’s formative years, contribute to these conditions. The EOHHS survey found the following:

  • Children in the state of Rhode Island face greater economic, familial, and other social risks for lifelong problems with substance abuse and mental illness.
  • Rhode Island’s children are more likely to live in single-parent households, which contributes to both emotional and financial stress on the household.
  • Parents are more likely to struggle with unemployment, which contributes to stress and behavioral problems like substance abuse.
  • Because of unemployment struggles, many children in Rhode Island have less access to healthcare, so they are less likely to receive timely diagnoses for conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other stresses. This contributes to higher rates of major depression, anxiety, and substance abuse later in life.

In the survey, 5.9 percent of mothers and about 5 percent of fathers reported poor mental health. Parental health, including emotional, behavioral, and financial security, contributes to the child’s later health.

Among Rhode Island young adults, ages 18-24, 19.8 percent reported some form of serious psychological distress in the past year, in a 2010-2011 survey. This is higher than the national average of 17.9 percent. Among adults ages 18 and older, 7 percent in Rhode Island reported unmet mental healthcare needs in 2011; this was significantly higher than the national average of 4.6 percent.

Rhode Island Overdose Deaths

The State of Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) has, since 2014, reported a gradual increase in the number of drug overdose deaths. This appears to relate predominantly to the introduction of fentanyl, an opioid narcotic that is between 50 and 100 times more potent than morphine, and about 80 times more potent than heroin. Across the US, fentanyl has frequently been added to heroin, or sold in place of heroin, which has led to a dramatic increase in opioid overdose deaths. Rhode Island, unfortunately, reflects this trend, particularly since 2016.

When fentanyl overdoses are removed, other drug overdose deaths appear to be on the decline. This means that some public prevention, intervention, and treatment measures are working for the state.

How Law Enforcement Can Help Substance Abusers

While Cranston, the greater Providence metropolitan area, and Rhode Island in general all grapple with the severe problem of substance abuse among residents, steps are being taken to improve prevention programs, intervention through greater access to medical care, and treatment programs and training for police officers, in prisons, and after incarceration. The Cranston Police Department, for example, features a Special Reaction Team that includes drug investigations and seizures. This team can administer naloxone to those experiencing opioid overdoses and help offenders find treatment rather than face incarceration.

Resources to Find Treatment in Cranston, Rhode Island

The Mayor’s Substance Abuse Prevention Council for Providence, RI released a Mental Health Resource Guide for 2016, for Providence and surrounding areas, including Cranston. Many of the listings can benefit those struggling with mental illness as well as behavioral conditions like substance abuse.

The City of Cranston, RI website provides a list of community organizations that provide social service programs, including healthcare. Some of the listed healthcare providers treat mental and behavioral conditions, including substance abuse.

The State of Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) provides help finding credentialed, inspected, licensed professionals and facilities to treat mental illness and substance use disorders.