Advocates say overdose antidote could save many

More than 40 people have now died of drug overdoses in Rhode Island since Jan. 1, seven in just the last week.

Loved ones came together with advocates, experts and police on Wednesday night at Miriam Hospital in Providence to try to find answers to the growing epidemic.

"That's too many, way too many," Kim Rizun told NBC 10.

Rizun says her son, 32-year-old Brandon Leduc of Woonsocket, died a week-and-a-half ago of an overdose. A day before her son's funeral, Rizun came to the forum.

"There's nothing I can change about him. There's nothing I can do but I figure if I can get involved with this process and maybe help the next mother," she said.

Heads of state agencies, recovery workers, medical professionals, police chiefs were on hand as well as families of addicts.

One mother, who did not want to be identified, told NBC 10 her son overdosed last week. He was saved when rescue workers gave him the overdose antidote Narcan.

"He did stop breathing in the ambulance and it was a very serious situation. Unfortunately, that's not always enough to stop compulsion when it comes to drugs," the woman said.

It was enough for Jonathan Goyer. "I shouldn't be standing here," he said.

Goyer overdosed last year, and was also saved when a friend found him and injected him with Narcan. Goyer now works with a recovery group.

"I wouldn't be standing here if it wasn't for access to recovery," he said.

Advocates say the overdoses are preventable. They call for more outreach, giving more access to Narcan, especially for police, and trying to get through to the addicts that they could die.

"Encouraging people to get help for the problem is a huge part of it," said Armand Cortellesso of the advocacy group RICares. "We can increase the amount of treatment in this state. How the police respond is extremely important."

The head of the Rhode Island State Police, the head of the local police chiefs association, and the Providence police chief told the crowd they believe officers should soon have Narcan in their cruisers as they are often first responders to overdose cases.

But more than anything, experts say the key is public education and breaking the stigma that comes with addiction.