PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — Municipal officials, first responders, and treatment and recovery specialists were among the more than 300 people from throughout the state who gathered recently to learn from the overdose prevention and response work happening in Rhode Island’s cities and towns.
Convened by Governor Gina M. Raimondo’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force, the Community Overdose Engagement Summit: Bending the Curve, highlighted locally responsive overdose plans developed by 34 Rhode Island municipalities. The local plans align with the Task Force’s overarching strategic plan. These local plans were developed by communities to respond to their specific resources, strengths, and challenges. They were supported by grant funding from the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), and were informed by community-level data compiled, analyzed, and shared by RIDOH.
“The overdose epidemic affects every community in our state, and it’s critical that we focus prevention and recovery efforts both at the state and local level,” said Governor Raimondo, who attended the event. “Some of the most effective strategies in this fight have come from the front lines—from first responders, harm reduction workers and behavioral health specialists in individual communities. My administration is committed to working with local leaders and experts to prevent overdoses and save lives in every city and town in Rhode Island.”
The event was also attended by Tom Coderre, Senior Advisor to Governor Raimondo; Rebecca Boss, the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH); and Ana Novais, the Deputy Director of RIDOH.
Examples of initiatives in cities’ and towns’ local overdose response plans include:
- Richmond’s and Hopkinton’s municipal officers partnered with the Rhode Island State Police on the Heroin-Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE) Initiative to learn techniques on post-overdose outreach.
- Portsmouth, Tiverton, and Little Compton’s fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel trained in Mental Health First Aid with a Bradley Hospital staff member and implemented Safe Stations on Aquidneck Island. Safe Stations helps connect people in crisis to local treatment and recovery support services.
- Providence collaborated with the non-profit organization Project Weber/RENEW to conduct outreach in areas of the city where overdoses most commonly occur. Peer recovery specialists from Project Weber/RENEW distributed hundreds of safer drug use resources, such as sterile syringes and fentanyl test strips, to individuals at higher risk for overdose.
“The overdose crisis is a local crisis,” said Michelle McKenzie, Director of Preventing Overdose and Naloxone Intervention (PONI) at The Miriam Hospital. “Communities need data and support to implement programs we know can prevent overdoses and save lives in the neighborhoods we serve every day. That is what our Street Outreach and Safer Drug Use/Harm Reduction work in Providence is all about, and that is what the Community Overdose Engagement Summit is all about.”
After seeing our number of drug overdose deaths increase for almost a decade, Rhode Island has started to make some progress. The state saw a 6.5% reduction in overdose deaths in the last two years (336 in 2016, versus 314 in 2018).
In addition to municipal officials, first responders, and treatment and recovery specialists, attendees included pharmacists, behavioral health counselors, family and youth substance use prevention organization members, and representatives from Rhode Island’s Centers of Excellence, Health Equity Zones (HEZs), and Regional Prevention Coalitions.
Cities and towns first started working on local overdose prevention and response plans in 2017 at the first Community Overdose Engagement Summit. RIDOH made grant funding of up to $5,000 available to the 25 municipalities that started creating plans at that time. Those municipalities were: Barrington, Bristol, Burrillville, Central Falls, Charlestown, Coventry, East Providence, Exeter, Hopkinton, Little Compton, Narragansett, Newport, North Kingstown, Pawtucket, Portsmouth, Providence, Richmond, South Kingstown, Tiverton, Warren, Warwick, West Greenwich, West Warwick, Westerly, and Woonsocket.
The nine additional cities and towns that have since developed local overdose plans are Cranston, East Greenwich, Glocester, Johnston, Lincoln, Middletown, New Shoreham, North Providence, and Smithfield.
Additionally, 20 cities and towns from the first cohort applied for and received additional funding from RIDOH to further focus on one of their main initiatives.
A video that highlights the innovative work of five Rhode Island municipalities that developed comprehensive overdose response plans is available online.
The data used to inform the local overdose prevention and response plans were compiled and analyzed by RIDOH using reports from emergency departments and hospitals in Rhode Island. Emergency departments are required to report suspected opioid overdoses to RIDOH within 48 hours. RIDOH, BHDDH, and the Rhode Island State Fusion Center use these weekly data to monitor increases in opioid overdose activity. (The Rhode Island Fusion Center is a law enforcement partnership.) Alerts about increases in overdose activity within a seven-day period are sent to local leaders, first responders, treatment providers, and other community stakeholders.