Rhode Island – we have an (opioid) problem

By John J. Tassoni, Jr.

No one wakes up in the morning thinking that today will be the day they become addicted to opioids or other substance; yet it is an everyday occurrence in the state and across the nation. Last year alone, 323 Rhode Islanders reportedly lost their lives to overdose that we know of, while more than 115 people die daily from an opioid overdose in the United States.

Drug overdoses in Rhode Island are a public health crisis and the number of deaths from overdose are rapidly increasing. From 2011 to 2017 overdose deaths in the state increased by almost 90 percent.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that Rhode Island is among the top 10 states with the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths. That is a top-10 list we should not be proud of.

How did this happen?

One reason is that medical providers have been prescribing opioid pain relievers at an alarming rate, which subsequently led to widespread dissemination and misuse of the drugs. Among other factors for substance abuse and dependency include trauma, self-medication, anxiety and depression, and peer pressure, which are all gateways that may lead to addiction.

What is important to remember is that substance use and addiction are conditions of mental illness, and need to be addressed and treated as any other medical disorder would be, without stigma and denunciation.

On May 30, The Substance Use and Mental Health Leadership Council of RI in collaboration with Smithfield Youth Soccer Association and Smithfield Lacrosse Association held a town-wide summit at Smithfield High School to provide awareness and understanding of the opioid crisis, particularly among young people to offer resources and support for treatment and recovery.

Though only 17 people from the community attended, it was a clear indication that there are some very forward-thinking individuals who want to be a part of the solution.

When a person is dealing with addiction, it affects every member of the family, and ultimately the entire community. Often times, getting help is a family affair, and The Substance Use and Mental Health Leadership Council of RI represents agencies that provide mental health and addiction treatment, substance abuse prevention, family support and wellness services to over 20,000 people annually.

If these 17 people who attended the summit can help save just one life, that is 17 people in Rhode Island who won’t die from addiction today. Just think of how many more lives would be saved if more people got involved.