There have been 22 accidental fatal drug overdoses across Rhode Island in the first two weeks of the year, twice the normal rate, health officials said Friday.
Many of the deaths were from drugs sold illegally on the street, according to Health Department Director Michael Fine. He said no single reason has been identified to explain the increase from Jan. 1 to Jan. 13.
"Drug addiction is a chronic serious disease with a significant mortality," he said. "Too many people are doing drugs."
Those who died included men and women between the ages of 20 and 62. The drugs involved included cocaine, heroin, benzodiazepines, methamphetamine, oxycodone and the muscle relaxant carisoprodol, Fine said. In 13 cases, initial screening tests found the prescription painkiller fentanyl or a drug like it.
Acetyl fentanyl, a synthetic opiate believed responsible for more than a dozen deaths in Rhode Island last year, has not been found so far, officials said. Toxicology tests are not yet complete.
The deaths took place in 13 cities and towns and were all individual events.
Fine and Craig Stenning, director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, made a plea for those with substance abuse problems to get treatment, and for family members and loved ones to encourage them to.
Stenning said relapse is common, but people can and do recover from addiction.
"We don't consider relapse a failure. There is no such thing as failure," Stenning said at a news conference at health department headquarters. "Recovery is about hope. Recovery is about making a decision to live rather than die."
Lt. Robert Wall of Rhode Island State Police urged people to call authorities if they suspect someone has overdosed. He cited a law enacted in Rhode Island in 2012, the Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Act, designed to protect from prosecution those who seek emergency medical help in such cases.
Many are often afraid to call authorities for fear they will be charged themselves with minor drug violations.
"Call the police," Wall said. "You may save a life."