Rhode Island State Police announce program to fight opioid epidemic

RISP HOPE Project

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem.” It’s a saying familiar to those who dedicate their lives to combating drug addiction. Seeing the message on a screen in a roomful of law enforcement officers, though, was jarring for Tom Coderre, who battled drug addiction and is a senior adviser to Gov. Gina Raimondo. “I nearly fell over,” he said. But the new Heroin-Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE) Initiative relies on law enforcement officers to work with clinicians and recovery coaches in identifying individuals at risk of overdosing and guiding them on a path toward treatment and recovery. Eighty officers from the Rhode Island State Police and municipal departments attended a daylong training Monday at the Roger Williams University’s Baypoint Conference Center for the program, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the country. Police will focus on patients being discharged from the hospital after suffering an overdose, inmates who received substance-abuse treatment in prison and are being released, and those who miss a court date for a drug charge, said Col. Ann Assumpico, the superintendent of the State Police. She called the 1,673 overdoses last year in Rhode Island, including 323 fatalities, “unacceptable,” especially for law enforcement officers whose mission it is to ensure the public’s health and safety. “We will get people help, which is what the HOPE Initiative is all about,” Assumpico said. The program will be coordinated by the State Police, which will partner with the Governor’s Task Force on Opioid Prevention and Intervention; the Department of Health; the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals; and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, according to a State Police statement. State and federal grants will fund the program. Raimondo, who attended the announcement Monday, said of the many issues she confronts as governor, the opioid epidemic is “definitely one that keeps me up at night the most.” She noted that addiction afflicts people across all backgrounds — young and old, rich and poor — and is in “every neighborhood, every family.” Like many places across the country, Rhode Island has been ravaged by the opioid epidemic. According to statistics from the Department of Health, there was an initial spike in accidental drug overdose deaths from 2011, when there were eight, to 2012, with 183. The number of deaths climbed each of the next four years, reaching 336 in 2016 before dropping slightly last year. Through May of this year, there were 157 such deaths.

10/4/18

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