It was nearly three months ago, in February, when the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman brought a national spotlight to an ongoing epidemic of fatal drug overdoses connected to prescription medications and heroin.
The attention, as with all stories, faded as other issues came to the forefront. In Rhode Island, however, the overdose situation has been impossible to escape this year.
The latest figures show 85 people have died of overdoses in the Ocean State since Jan. 1. First responders have utilized Narcan, an overdose antidote, more than 400 times over that same period. The deaths have occurred in more than two-dozen communities across the state, and have involved both men and women, young and old.
This disturbing trend recently led Gov. Lincoln Chafee to unveil new steps designed to curb overdose deaths, including expanding the availability of Narcan, utilizing substance abuse coaches in emergency rooms and seeking assistance from the Centers for Disease Control.
For individuals and families, the overdose epidemic highlights the broader dangers of substance abuse – how drugs can creep into our communities in ways we often don’t notice, and how even those closest to us can be affected. The situation also serves as a chance to recommit ourselves to do what we can to keep those we love, particularly our children, safe.
This coming weekend’s Prescription Drug Take Back Day provides a rallying point for positive action, affording the members of our communities a chance to dispose of expired, unwanted or unused medications safely and anonymously.
“Prescription drug abuse has become an epidemic in this country and can be a gateway to using more dangerous and illicit drugs, like heroin, to get a greater high. We need to get prescription drugs out of our homes before they can be abused and before they lead to more deadly drugs,” said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin in a statement regarding Take Back Day.
Law enforcement agencies across the state will participate in the Saturday, April 26 event, including police departments in Warwick, Johnston and Cranston. Warwick Police will accept prescription medications at their 99 Veterans Memorial Drive headquarters, while Johnston Police will be at the Johnston Senior Center at 1291 Hartford Ave. Take Back Day runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and a full list of participating agencies and locations is available online at either www.riag.ri.gov or www.dea.gov.
Take Back Day has grown in popularity in recent years, no doubt thanks to rising awareness of the prescription drug problem. According to Kilmartin’s office, Americans have turned in more than 1,700 tons of pills through the program since 2010.
Taking medications out of circulation also has environmental benefits, preventing the drugs from being improperly disposed of through the trash or toilet.
The day’s success has additionally been a factor in the installation of permanent drop-off boxes at many local police departments, including in Warwick and Johnston earlier this year.
Addiction takes a terrible toll on individual lives, families and communities. The spiral of despair, crime and death it so often leads to, tears at the very fabric of our society.
Combating addiction requires broad action, but it also requires vigilance in our own homes and neighborhoods. Take Back Day, and the campaign that it represents, provides a valuable tool in that fight.