Hospital program leads Overdose Awareness Day events
Fentanyl test strips, naloxone kits handed out to combat opioid epidemic deaths
Public health advocates in Rhode Island, including representatives of Preventing Overdose and Naloxone Intervention (PONI) at The Miriam Hospital, joined forces on Friday, Aug. 31 -- the fourth annual International Overdose Awareness Day -- to launch a campaign that will make Rhode Island among the first in the nation to distribute fentanyl test strips. These $1 strips indicate the presence of fentanyl, a highly potent and deadly synthetic opioid that is commonly found in the local drug supply, including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. Fentanyl is a major driver of overdose deaths in Rhode Island.
Advocates from public health, prevention, recovery and the harm reduction community visited sites in Providence and around Rhode Island on Friday to distribute the test strips. They also distributed doses of naloxone, a medication effective at reversing an opioid overdose.
“The opioid epidemic continues to transform, challenging us to employ creative and dynamic solutions to combat this crisis. Helping Rhode Islanders detect fentanyl in the drug supply, prior to use, will save lives,” said Josiah Rich, M.D., co-founder of PONI, an overdose prevention and intervention training program at The Miriam Hospital.
Rich, an infectious disease physician at The Miriam, is a national expert on the opioid epidemic and an advisor to the Governor's Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force. He is also the director of The Miriam's Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights and a professor of medicine and epidemiology at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. He co-founded PONI with Michelle McKenzie, who, as the director of the program, collaborated with 40 community organizations to distribute more than 5,000 naloxone kits in 2017.
“We’re hitting the streets in recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day to raise awareness about innovative technology -- fentanyl test strips -- that allows people to know whether their drugs contain fentanyl,” said McKenzie, a senior project director at The Miriam and research associate at the Warren Alpert Medical School. “It is an honor to partner with so many organizations from around the state to provide the test strips, naloxone, and harm reduction tools.”
An amendment to Rhode Island’s Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention law, which was passed this year, firmly makes the distribution and use of fentanyl test strips legal. Harm reduction efforts such as fentanyl test strips and naloxone distribution are recognized as critically important tools -- used hand-in-hand with prevention, treatment and recovery strategies -- to keep friends, family and neighbors alive.
Participating agencies included Anchor Recovery Centers and Mobile Outreach, R.I. Department of Behavioral Health Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, CODAC Behavioral Health, Community Care Alliance, ENCORE/AIDS Care Ocean State, Hope Recovery Center of Newport, House of Hope, Parent Support Network, PONI/The Miriam Hospital, Protect Families First, Providence Healthy Communities Office, Resources-Education-Support-Together, RI Communities for Addiction Recovery Efforts, R.I. Department of Health, RI Users Union, Weber/Renew, Woonsocket Prevention Council.