RI outlines plan to deal with drug overdose epidemic

Thursday's forum was held at the Anchor Recovery Community Center.

It's no longer isolated to city street corners, or kept in the privacy of basements.

State health director Dr. Michael Fine said Thursday that addiction in Rhode Island is out in the open and that it's claiming more victims every day.

"We've lost at least 85 Rhode Islanders since New Year's Day," Fine said.

At the Anchor Recovery Community Center, more than 100 people came to share their stories and talk about solutions.

"I never felt normal. I always felt different from everybody else," said Abbie Stenberg, a former addict.

Stenberg said she's lucky to be alive. She became addicted to prescription pain medication after hurting her back as a 14 year old.

"Fourteen years old, I was a great kid. I was in SADD. They called me 'hugs not drugs' girl, and at 15 I was a full-blown drug addict and 16, I was in rehab for a year," Stenberg said.

The numbers are staggering: 85 dead since Jan. 1, 428 people have been recorded as having been injected with Narcan, the antidote to heroin overdose. And 38 people went to an emergency department after an overdose in just the past two weeks.

The state is making a financial contribution. It will grant immediate assessments to physicians who have a patient who recently overdosed. It will purchase 500 new Narcan kits. And it will pay for weekend recovery coaches to be on hand at all hours.

Stenberg said addicts need to know when they've hit rock bottom.

"Your rock bottom is really whenever you decide to stop digging," Stenberg said.

But if they can't decide that on their own, Rhode Islanders want to have resources available to treat and prevent this epidemic from spreading.