Drug Overdose Deaths Soar in Rhode Island, State Attempts to Distribute 10,000 Naloxone Kits

Rhode Island Prevent Overdose Initiative

2020 was a record breaking year for opioid overdose deaths. In Rhode Island, it was no different. The state recorded 359 accidental overdose deaths through September, surpassing 2016’s record of 336.

Jennifer Koziol, the Health Department’s drug overdose prevention program administrator, notes that health officials have yet to identify a cause for the increase in deaths, however it may be, in part, due to an increasing toxicity of the drug supply. A larger amount of drugs appear to now be laced with fentanyl, a cheap and synthetic opioid, that can prove to be fatal in small doses.

Koziol credits the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic along with widespread job loss to be a factor.

“It is definitely exacerbating substance use disorders,” she said. “A lot of people who have been in long-term recovery, feeling solid in their recovery, are relapsing because of everything that is happening.”

Between the pandemic and influx of overdoses rattling Rhode Island, the state finds itself in a “syndemic,” Koziol adds, defined by “two or more crises impacting a population simultaneously.”

In its efforts to respond, Rhode Island is attempting to increase the supply of overdose reversal medicine within the community and potentially reduce the amount of overdose fatalities through the 10,000 Chances Project. The state is using federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to aid in the distribution of 10,000 naloxone kits through community organizations. Each kit will contain two doses.

The initiative stems from Governor Gina Raimondo’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force Action plan, which aims to ensure that “every Rhode Island community has access to naloxone.”

RICARES (Rhode Island Communities for Addiction Recovery Efforts) is among the community organizations that will be aiding in the distribution of the naloxone kits. Additionally, RICARES will be distributing fentanyl test kits.

Diego Arene-Morley, a program manager with RICARES, says that “[fentanyl] is in almost every drug that people can buy on the street.” There is an increased danger given that fentanyl is not only being found in opioids, but also in cocaine, methamphetamines, and counterfeit benzodiazepines like Xanax.

With the overdose death toll rising in Rhode Island, Arene-Morley credits how crucial it is to get the kits as widely dispersed as possible.

“It’s like a face mask now,” he said. “We all need to have it.”


Fitzpatrick, E. (2021, February 14). In Rhode Island, a record number of drug overdose deaths – The Boston Globe. Retrieved February 16, 2021, from https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/02/12/metro/rhode-island-record-number-drug-overdose-deaths-2020/