The University of Rhode Island Police Department is following the lead of other departments across the state and is now supplied with the life-saving drug naloxone used for opioid overdoses.

“We thought it was important that our officers have this tool on their tool belt so they can effectively make a difference,” said Maj. Michael Jagoda of the URI Police Department. Naloxone, also referred to as the brand name Narcan, is already carried by police departments across Rhode Island but has now made its way to police cruisers here on campus.

“When we talk about overdoses everybody associates it with heroin, but there’s also overdoses on prescription medication, too,” said Jagoda. “It’s a combination of both, involving prescription pain medicine and street narcotics.”  URI saw an overdose on the bay campus, unrelated to a URI community member two years ago, according to Jagoda.

After doing research and working with the Rhode Island Department of Health, the police department went fully functional with naloxone last month, according to Jagoda. Recent overdose trends in the state show that making naloxone available is essential. “Generally speaking the drug overdose crisis is one of the most significant public health crises that the state has ever faced,” said Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Health.

The state saw 336 deaths in 2016 related to drug overdoses, which was an increase compared to 2015 when there were 290. However, despite the increase in deaths, Wendelken said the presence of naloxone throughout the state becoming more evident. “We’re not seeing a decrease in overdose deaths, however we are getting naloxone out into the community more and more. We are seeing it be used more and more. We are seeing it to be used to revive people who have overdosed,” he said. The DOH began distributing naloxone in Rhode Island in 2013.

Part of the reason why there has been an increase in overdose deaths can somewhat be attributed to the fact that there has been an increased presence of fentanyl in Rhode Island, according to Wendelken. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is used to treat patients with severe pain after surgery but is also often mixed with heroin.

“Many people are using fentanyl and they don’t think they’re using fentanyl, they think they’re just using heroin and sadly, it kills and it kills very quickly,” said Wendelken. Typically, one to two doses of naloxone is effective when treating someone who has overdosed on heroin, however, Wendelken said it can take up to five doses of naloxone to revive someone suffering from an overdose involving fentanyl.

The state of Rhode Island has had 29 confirmed accidental drug-related overdose deaths that involved fentanyl since January of 2017. Based on a 2016 report, 3300 doses of naloxone were administered by emergency officials in Rhode Island, an extremely high number, according to Wendelken. However, the department of health exceeded last year’s goal of distributing 5,000 naloxone kits into the community at 6,000 kits.

“We’re not stopping because we hit that metric. We’re going to keep doing everything we can to continue to push naloxone out and to get it into as many venues as possible,” he said. “That’s why it’s so exciting to us that URI has taken this step.”

The URI Police Department has naloxone to administer in the form of a nasal spray. Although the police department, fire department, EMS and health services are the only departments that have received naloxone administration training, the University is looking to do more training in the future. “We do want the tools to be able to deal with this rising statistic that we’re seeing until we can get that statistic down where we have no deaths,” Jagoda said.

The department of health is also working to address the stigma associated with overdoses. “A lot of people have conceptions about who someone is, who’s struggling with opioid use disorder, and where overdoses happen when reality is that we’re seeing overdoses in every single city and town throughout the state,” Wendelken said.

In the state of Rhode Island, you do not need a prescription to purchase naloxone, as it is over-the-counter, and the DOH is urging people to make sure they have it on hand if needed. “If someone has a friend who they’re concerned about, a friend who is struggling with opioid use, having naloxone on hand at home, on you, can really mean the difference between life and death for someone,” he said.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please call Rhode Island’s drug addiction hotline at 401-942-STOP (401-942-7867) for help.