Attorney General Peter Kilmartin provided some staggering statistics concerning drug addiction and overdose at Tuesday’s press conference in the Providence Center.
Over the last five years Rhode Island’s rate of overdose has increased 73 percent and between January and August of this year alone 133 people have died due to overdose. Across the country more than 100 Americans die every day from an overdose, the majority of them from heroin or prescription drugs.
Kilmartin paired the grave explanation of the state’s and country’s drug abuse epidemic with an announcement for three initiatives to curb domestic addiction and overdoses.
Currently, there is bipartisan legislation before Congress, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which would attack the issue of addiction from various perspectives. Kilmartin and 37 other attorneys general from the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) sent a letter of support to Congress asking for “swift passage.” If passed, the act would not only enhance prevention and education but also the availability of Narcan, treatment for incarcerated individuals, prescription drug monitoring programs, and “evidence-based” intervention and recovery treatment programs.
“This is not a bipartisan issue, this is a human problem. We know that addiction is a treatable disease, but we also know that only about 10 percent of those who need treatment are receiving it,” Kilmartin said.
Kilmartin hosted Dr. Traci Green, associate professor of emergency medicine and epidemiology at Brown University and the director of the Injury Prevention Center at Boston Medical Center. She chairs the Drug Overdose Prevention and Rescue Coalition for the Rhode Island Department of Health and serves as an advisor to Governor Raimondo’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force. Having grown up in Los Angeles with the “HIV epidemic” in her backyard, she has spent a lot of time successfully combating the spread of HIV but admitted that we have a “new epidemic.”
“But we can learn from the past. Those efforts that were effective before can be utilized now,” she said. “Tackling this will require all hands on deck.”
Although Rhode Island may see some of the worst statistics in the country, Green said drug abuse is a concern nationwide and we can help one another in sharing best practices. A key part to moving forward would be to address the issues of stigma concerning addicts as well as those in recovery.
Tom Joyce, a recovery coach at Anchor Recovery Center, is in long-term recovery himself and as such has been able to provide an “empathetic ear to help those in recovery with dignity and grace.” Because addiction is a disease he says it is important that the perception of addicts changes to reflect that. He argued that Rhode Island’s recovery community is second to none in the country but assured the state still has a long way to go before the issue is resolved.
“We won’t be winning the war on drugs anytime soon, but we can take steps to reduce the damage it causes,” he said.
Green agreed, saying, “We’ve made some strides, but we still have a lot of deaths to prevent.”
Green will be one of the speakers at the NAAG Eastern Region Meeting at the end of October, which will focus on opiod addiction and overdose crisis. As chair of the NAAG’s Eastern Region, Kilmartin chose this year’s topic.
Kilmartin said, “We need to bring this to a national level encouraging collaboration to tackle this issue. We can’t solve this state by state.”
The conference will see speakers from various disciplines from medicine, research and even law enforcement.
“Law enforcement has always been on the frontline when it comes to drug crises, but we cannot arrest ourselves out of this current epidemic,” he said.
The chair of the Ocean State Prevention Alliance, Nancy DeNuccio, pointed out that prevention, especially among at-risk youths, will play a large role in combating the drug abuse epidemic. She encouraged parents to act as good role models, to speak with their children on the dangers of drugs, and to keep all prescription medications in secure locations. She also wants to see all prescribers in some form of prescription monitoring program.
“This is good because a lot of addictions start in the medicine cabinet,” Kilmartin agreed.
Lastly, Kilmartin announced that he had come to an agreement with Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, Inc., which manufactures Narcan, an opioid overdose reversal medication also known as Naloxone, to provide a $4 rebate for all Naloxone kits purchased by state agencies, municipal governments, state and municipal law enforcement agencies, emergency medical services or non-profit community based programs. He also plans on requesting Governor Gina Raimondo to create a trust fund for the bulk purchasing on Narcan in next year’s budget.
In 2014 Narcan was administered 1,600 in pre-hospital settings; between January 2014 and May 2015, 2,500 doses have been distributed into the community by Rhode Island dispensaries with another 950 distributed by community based overdose prevention programs; in the first six months of emergency departments dispensing Narcan to surviving overdose patients upon discharge 250 kits were distributed. As demand for Narcan increased, so did its cost, nearly doubling from $17 to $39 in the last year.
“We know Naloxone saves lives, and the cost should not be a hindrance,” Kilmartin said. “This agreement helps secure the affordability and availability of Naloxone kits.”