PROVIDENCE — The Rhode Island Foundation announced Wednesday that it will provide a $250,0000 grant to purchase thousands of Narcan opioid overdose prevention kits for recovery and harm reduction-focused organizations across the state.
Supplies of naloxone, which is a treatment that quickly reverses opioid overdoses and saves lives, are seriously depleted and drug overdose deaths are on the rise in Rhode Island. According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, accidental deaths increased 25 percent last year compared to 2019. The street drug supply is “increasingly lethal” due to the presence of fentanyl, and the number of people who are at risk for opioid overdose is greater than ever.
According to state data, three out of every four overdose deaths in 2020 involved fentanyl, which was found in counterfeit pills sold as oxycodone, benzodiazepines, and Adderall. The pills are even more lethal when they are crushed and snorted, but fentanyl has also been found in powders like cocaine and heroin.
“The current shortage (of Narcan) is a clear call for others to join with us and our partners to ensure Rhode Island has the resources to address this deadly health crisis as well as to confront the underlying causes of substance use disorder,” said Neil D. Steinberg, the Foundation’s president and CEO.
The grant, which will provide a two-month supply of the treatment, will be given to the University of Rhode Island and will enable the Community First Responder Program (CFRP) at its College of Pharmacy to purchase about 3,000 Narcan kits to be distributed to organizations.
The funding for the Foundation’s grant partially came from the Behavioral Health Fund, which was created with funding from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, the state’s largest health insurance company.
Narcan kits are commonly carried by emergency medical personnel, law enforcement, and mobile outreach workers. the doses of naloxone nasal spray are dispensed directly into the nostrils of someone who is overdosing.
But Rhode Island’s Narcan shortage reflects a national issue, as pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has run into production issues with a particular type of naloxone. The company told the Globe in August that it didn’t expect to ship any more of it until the fall.
However, the company said it would take time to ramp back up to pre-production issue levels, which may not be back until February 2022.
“The nature of our previous funding restricted our naloxone distribution efforts to rural areas of Rhode Island,” said CFRP Program Director Anita Jacobson, PharmD. “This grant will enable us to go wherever there is a need. When it comes to the drug overdose and addiction crisis, there are no borders.”