Warwick, Rhode Island is sister cities with Warwick, England, and has been since the European colonization of the United States. Since Rhode Island, nicknamed the Ocean State, is the smallest state in the US, Warwick has a population of close to 83,000 residents but is the second largest city in RI. This small city is one of the oldest cities in the United States, founded in 1642; it was also the scene of the first revolt against British rule in 1772, with the Gaspee Affair.

Compared to other cities in the state, Warwick has a low unemployment rate at 7.01 percent and slightly better access to healthcare. There is one primary care physician for every 82 residents and one mental health professional for every 263 people. The town struggles with alcohol and drug abuse, just like the rest of Rhode Island.

Substance Abuse and Treatment in Warwick, Rhode Island

Drug Abuse in Warwick, Rhode Island

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) publishes Behavioral Health Barometers for states all over the US. The 2015 Barometer for Rhode Island found that residents of the state struggle with drug addiction, alcohol abuse, and mental illness at higher rates than the rest of the country.

The Opioid Epidemic in Rhode Island

According to a study of 18-29 year olds in Rhode Island, one-fifth of these young adults sought treatment for opioid abuse and addiction at least once but were unable to get the help they needed. Of the 200 young adults surveyed, 87 percent had health insurance of some kind, and about half had struggled with homelessness. There were 336 drug overdose deaths in Rhode Island in 2016, up significantly from 290 in 2015 and 239 in 2014; most of these overdoses involved opioids, predominantly heroin laced with fentanyl.

Rhode Island’s governor signed a plan into action in 2017 to begin getting help for those struggling with opioid addiction. This plan includes keeping stricter watch on medical professionals in the state who prescribe opioids, expanding access to treatment programs, and training medical professionals in medication-assisted treatments (MAT) like buprenorphine, which is hard to access in the state.

Other Drugs Also Cause Problems in Rhode Island

SAMHSA also found that more adults in Rhode Island abuse illicit drugs. This has been true for several years, according to many published surveys. In the report for 2015, SAMSHA found that 3.4 percent of RI adults, compared to 2.6 percent nationally, struggled with illicit substance abuse. This included abuse of drugs like heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. Only 17.3 percent of these adults got the help they needed while 82.7 percent did not get treatment.

Adolescents Abuse Substances Early in the Ocean State

Children between the ages of 12 and 17 in Rhode Island are at much greater risk for mental and behavioral health struggles compounded by substance abuse. SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Barometer for 2015 found that, between 2013 and 2014:

  • 1 percent of Rhode Island’s adolescents abused illicit substances compared to 9.1 percent of their peers nationally
  • 3 percent of RI adolescents ages 12-20 years old binge drank at least once in the month before the survey compared to 14 percent around the country
  • 3 percent of Rhode Island adolescents began drinking in the prior year
  • 9 percent began abusing marijuana
  • 3 percent began smoking cigarettes
  • 6 percent abused prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons

Abuse of prescription painkillers was slightly lower among Rhode Island’s youth in 2013 and 2014 – 4.2 percent compared to 4.7 percent nationally – suggesting that some prevention and education programs may finally be working. Until that survey year, SAMHSA found that Rhode Island’s adolescents abused prescription opioids at higher rates compared to the rest of the country.

More of Rhode Island’s adolescents struggled with mental health conditions compared to their national peers: 12.9 percent reported at least one major depressive episode (MDE) in the past year compared to 11 percent nationally. Just less than half of the adolescents who needed mental health treatment in Rhode Island received the care they needed; 51.5 percent did not get help.

A survey conducted by Kids Count Rhode Island found similar problems among the state’s young people. In Warwick’s schools specifically:

  • 5 percent of middle school students currently abused alcohol
  • 6 percent of middle schoolers had ever abused marijuana
  • 3 percent of middle school students ever abused prescription medications
  • 3 percent of middle schoolers currently smoked cigarettes
  • 26 percent of high school students were currently abusing alcohol
  • 36 percent of high schoolers had ever tried marijuana
  • 15 percent of high school students had ever recreationally abused prescription drugs
  • 13 percent of high schoolers were current cigarette smokers

Rhode Island Residents’ Mental Health

Among Rhode Island’s adults, more people report experiencing a serious mental illness (SMI) compared to their peers around the rest of the US. SAMHSA found that 4.8 percent of adults in Rhode Island, compared to 4.2 percent nationally, experienced serious mental illness in the year before the survey. However, only 47.5 percent received the mental health treatment they needed; 52.5 percent did not get help for their condition.

Getting Treatment in the State

Rhode Island has one of the highest percentages of insured residents in the country, so most people who live in the state should have access to behavioral and mental healthcare, including substance abuse treatment; unfortunately, not many people in the state seek the help they need. More than half of people who struggle with opioid addiction, and who try to get into treatment programs, do not get help specifically because their insurance denies financial assistance for these options. An additional 40 percent were unable to get help because they could not afford the cost of treatment.

The state of Rhode Island is changing laws around drugs. For example, the state enacted Good Samaritan laws, preventing those who report an overdose from being prosecuted for drug crimes. The state is also expanding access to naloxone to reverse the tide of deadly opioid overdoses. However, access to treatment, even in a small geographical area, can be difficult for many.

Warwick, Rhode Island, Treatment Resources

Getting help in Warwick, Rhode Island, means knowing where to turn for resources. The Rhode Island chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides a list of national and state resources for crises, treatment, and recovery from mental health conditions. Additionally, the State of Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BDDH) lists several options for finding treatment for both mental health and substance use disorders. The providers listed by BDDH have been licensed and certified by the state of Rhode Island, ensuring evidence-based treatment practices. In addition, SAMHSA has a page of Rhode Island-based treatment professionals who can refer those in need to behavioral or mental health treatment.