Rhode Island is the smallest state in the United States; however, it has a big drug problem. Out of all of 50 states, Rhode Island ranks fifth for overdose deaths per capita and for drug problems in general, the Cranston Patch publishes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there were approximately 28.2 overdose deaths per every 100,000 people in Rhode Island in 2015, which was an increase of more than 20 percent from 2014 to 2015. The percentage of adults using drugs in Rhode Island ranks third in the nation while the percentage of teenage drug users ranks fifth. Rhode Island also has the second highest percentage in the country of adults needing treatment for drug issues who are not receiving the help they need.

The picturesque coastal town of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, located in Newport County, is no stranger to drug abuse and addiction either. In 2013, the Portsmouth Substance Abuse Data Report indicates that on average more than 40 percent of all students in grades 7-12 consumed alcohol, 25 percent abused marijuana, just over 10 percent smoked cigarettes, and just under 10 percent misused prescription pills.

In 2011, the Portsmouth police reported that there were 108 drug- or substance-related arrests, which made up 21 percent of all offenses. Within the county jail, the superintendent estimates that 80-85 percent of all inmates are incarcerated for drug-related crimes, the Seacoast Online publishes.

Heroin is an issue in Portsmouth, as city firefighters report administering the opiate overdose reversal drug Narcan (naloxone) a total of 43 times in 2014 (which doesn’t account for the times a person may have already died of an overdose before first responders arrived on scene). There are few local treatment options directly in Portsmouth; however, there are behavioral health resources available to residents.

Public and Private Addiction Treatment Options in Portsmouth and Rhode Island

Substance abuse and mental health treatment services in Rhode Island are managed by the State of Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH). The Division of Behavioral Healthcare (DBH) is responsible for managing and assuring quality integrated mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, and intervention and prevention services statewide.

Public services are provided to residents who demonstrate financial need and who meet eligibility requirements for little or no cost. These programs may take longer to access, as there are fewer beds and/or spaces available for state and federally funded treatment services. Private facilities can provide a wider range of treatment options and may be able to accommodate Rhode Islanders more readily.

Substance abuse treatment services may include detox services, co-occurring disorders treatment, outpatient and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), medication management, residential treatment, transitional care, and aftercare services. Resources for prevention, intervention, crisis, treatment, and recovery services in and around Portsmouth, Rhode Island, include the following:

  • BHDDH hosts a listing of agencies that are licensed to provide substance abuse treatment services.
  • The Samaritans of Rhode Island provide a Suicide Prevention Resource Center, which includes a 24-hour crisis hotline.
  • BHDDH also provides a list of local resources and emergency numbers.
  • Mental health and substance abuse treatment providers can be located using the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.
  • Sponsored by the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), Prevent Overdose RI is a prevention and treatment resource.
  • Local treatment information is also provided by RIDOH and BHDDH, which includes the recovery helpline information within the Addiction is a Disease
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in Rhode Island hosts information on local self-help, 12-Step group meetings.

The Governor’s Campaign against the Opioid Epidemic

Opioid overdose deaths and rates of addiction have been rising in Rhode Island in recent years. Governor Gina Raimondo established the Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force in 2015 to address the public health crisis. Rhode Island’s Strategic Plan on Addiction and Overdose set forth by the task force has four main strategies intended to reduce the number of overdose deaths by one-third in three years, which include: prevention, treatment, overdose rescue, and recovery.

Rhode Island monitors controlled substances through their prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP), which helps to control prescription drug misuse, diversion, and potential overdose by monitoring the distribution and prescription of potentially dangerous medications. Many times, benzodiazepine drugs are prescribed in tandem with opioid medications, which can have dangerous interactions. The monitoring program serves to limit the co-prescription of these two controlled substances and educate prescribers and the public on their potential hazards separately and when combined. Limits have also been placed on how long opioid drugs can be prescribed. In addition, Rhode Island participates in drug take-back days to help residents dispose of unused medications.

The crackdown on prescription pill diversion and misuse may have opened the door to illicit opioids such as heroin and fentanyl, an extremely potent synthetic opiate that can be manufactured in clandestine labs and is often laced into other drugs like heroin to “stretch” the product as a cheaper alternative. RIDOH warns that between 2009 and 2016, there were 15 times as many overdose deaths involving fentanyl.