WARWICK – A spike in drug overdoses being treated at Kent Hospital –seven out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in the past eight weeks have resulted in five deaths – led hospital and state officials to alert and educate the community about what they see as a public health emergency.
During the current fiscal year, in the first six months, Kent Hospital has seen 75 overdose cases that were admitted to the hospital on ventilators, more than entire 66 overdose cases the previous year, according to Dr. Michael Dacey Jr., Kent Hospital’s chief medical officer.
Dacey was joined at a hospital news conference on Monday, April 16 by Kent Hospital’s CEO, Sandra L. Coletta, Dr. Michael Fine, director of the R.I. Department of Health, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, Capt. Robert Nelson of the Warwick Police Department, Dr. Alan Gordon, associate medical director, Substance Abuse, at Butler Hospital and Craig Stenning, director of the R.I. Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.
“Our goal was to spark the discussion; I believe that has happened,” Coletta told Providence Business News, who said that the news conference had been very well attended, with numerous local officials and many concerned parents as well.
“Drug abuse and drug overdoses are not new, but they are occurring at a higher frequency than we were comfortable keeping to ourselves,” he added. “We felt we need to put a spotlight on the issue.”
Among the drugs involved in causing the overdoses were prescription pain-killers known as opioids and heroin, according to Dacey.
In the last 10 days, there have been three heroin overdoses, resulting in two deaths, he said. The victims were all under 25.
“The potency of heroin varies from batch to batch,” Dacey explained. “But if you look at heroin today, which is coming from Afghanistan, it is much more potent than the heroin, compared to a decade ago.”
Dacey noted that the age group of drug overdoses is almost exclusively under the age of 25, that it evenly split between, 50 percent men, 50 percent women, and that the patients were from “fairly affluent” places in Rhode Island.
One of the first questions that Kent Hospital looked at in the spike of drug overdoses was whether or not its policy of non-diversion of ambulances had any impact. It didn’t according to Dacey, who said that overdoses were all from emergency services south of Providence.
A new prescription monitoring plan, being put into place this summer under the leadership of Fine, will offer both physicians and pharmacies the opportunity for a real-time data check on prescriptions, which will help improve controls on prescription painkillers, according to Dacey.
“We need to focus on education and access to care. While prevention through education is the best cure – it is not commonly known what tremendous advances and breakthroughs have occurred in the last decade in deepening our understanding and developing new treatment of abuse and addiction to prescription drugs and heroin. Success rates are dramatic, lives can be saved, and quality of life improved,” said Butler Hospital’s Gordon.