An interfaith memorial service for the 1,250 Rhode Islanders who have died of opioid overdose in the last five years was held Thursday at the First Baptist Church in America in Providence. The service was a collaboration of clergy, the St. Matthias Ministry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence and a group known as FIRE, which stands for Faith Infused Recovery Efforts. Besides music and prayer, speakers including personal family stories of the affliction of addiction.

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A jarring comment at the close of the June 14 Governor’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force meeting challenged the way that strategies are being implemented, and whether they benefit the people seeking treatment and recovery
PHOTO BY RICHARD ASINOF Gov. Gina Raimondo talks at the opening of the new Lifespan Recovery Center on June 19, as Dr. Timothy Babineau, president and CEO of Lifespan, listens attentively.

Despite the best efforts of the Governor’s Task Force, people keep dying at an alarming rate in Rhode Island from overdose deaths. What has not yet made it onto the agenda of the Task Force and into the public conversation are harm reduction strategies to save lives. At the opening of the new Lifespan Recovery Center, the senior vice president of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health said that the only thing he knew about safe injection sites is what he had read in the newspaper.

Why are harm reduction strategies not at the top of the agenda of the Governor’s Task Force, if the goal is to save lives? How can the recovery community make its voice heard, both at the Task Force in devising strategy, and in the larger public conversation? Will R.I. Attorney General Peter Kilmartin be willing to explore potential legal action against the Purdue Pharma division in Cumberland, seeking to recover the costs of public funds spent on treating patients with substance use disorders caused by prescription painkillers? Will the U.S. Senate be able to muster 50 votes needed to pass the Republican version of Trumpcare to repeal and replace Obamacare, or will Republican Senators be willing to stand up and say no to Sen. Mitch McConnell?

As more and more evidence mounts about the links between the economic disenfranchisement and the disease of despair – deaths from alcohol, suicide and drugs, the question remains how to have a public conversation about the issues that does not feature clinical experts talking at the audience. Recent research looking at the numbers form the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the numbers of deaths from 2010 to 2014 found that for the demographic of young white adults, male and female, between the ages of 25-34, Rhode Island led the nation with the highest rate of deaths caused by suicide, alcohol and drugs, at 59.8 percent.

There is good news in the campaign to reduce opioid deaths in Rhode Island. Newly released data show the Ocean State is at the top in New England and second best in the nation in reducing the number of opioid prescriptions filled within the past three years. Rhode Island’s numbers fell by 24.8 percent, second only to West Virginia’s 27.6 percent decline. Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire all brought their numbers down by better than 20 percent, while Vermont and Connecticut achieved slightly smaller decreases. Nationally, the average decrease was 14.6 percent, but for first time, every state in the union showed a decline.

PROVIDENCE – Monica Smith, the new executive director at RICARES, the Rhode Island Communities for Addiction Recovery Efforts, newly arrived from Oregon, admits that she is still learning how best to navigate her way around the policy labyrinths of Rhode Island – and how to properly pronounce the names of towns and cities.

In turn, what she brings to the conversation is a fresh perspective on the dynamics of the recovery movement, one that places an emphasis on building relationships.

An alleged intoxicated man transported to Rhode Island Hospital by rescue personnel for detox was reportedly released two hours after being seen, only to die early the next morning – the same day that new standards for emergency departments for treatment of substance use disorders were announced     
By Richard Asinof Posted 3/20/17

Why is this story important?
The story of an alleged intoxicated man transported by rescue personnel to the emergency room at Rhode Island Hospital for detox and reportedly released two hours later, who then died early the next morning, without evidence of foul play, raises questions about how alcoholism fits within the new standards for treatment of substance use disorders by emergency departments.

Sen Claire McCaskill (D, Missouri) has launched a Senate investigation into whether 5 drug companies marketed their opioid painkillers in a manner that may have contributed to the nation’s opioid epidemic.

letters to the companies, which include Mylan, Depomed, INSYS Therapeutics, Purdue Pharma, and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen division, McCaskill demanded internal documents relating to the firms’ marketing tactics, studies the companies conducted that might have alerted them to the risk of addiction and lethal overdose, behind-the-scenes efforts to block increased regulation, and sales quotas that may have led drug representatives to use kickbacks to encourage physicians to prescribe the drugs.