The Rhode Island Foundation on Thursday announced that it has awarded a $250,000 grant to purchase thousands of Narcan opioid overdose prevention kits for community-based recovery and harm reduction organizations across the state.

A record 384 Rhode Islanders died of a drug overdose last year, according to the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH).

“Narcan kits are a simple solution to a deadly problem. While our funding will save lives, it’s just a large, yet critically needed, ‘band-aid’ until a sustainable funding source is put in place,” said Neil D. Steinberg, the Foundation’s president and CEO in a statement. “The current shortage 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.”

The grant comes at a time when naloxone (also known as Narcan) supplies are seriously depleted. Drug overdose deaths increased 25 percent last year compared to 2019, according to RIDOH, and preliminary data indicate that 2021 could be even worse.The funding will provide about a two-month supply of the lifesaving emergency antidote.

“We are extremely grateful to the Rhode Island Foundation for providing critical funding for the purchase of lifesaving naloxone during an especially challenging time in our state. By bridging this gap, our trusted community partners can continue to get naloxone into the hands of Rhode Islanders most impacted by addiction and overdose, as well as their family members and friends. We all have a role to play to reduce overdose deaths and save lives,” said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH in a statement.

The Foundation’s grant to the University of Rhode Island will enable its Community First Responder Program (CFRP) at the College of Pharmacy to purchase approximately 3,000 Narcan kits for distribution to community-based recovery and harm reduction organizations, including Parent Support Network Hope Recovery Center in Middletown.

“The nature of our previous funding restricted our naloxone distribution efforts to rural areas of Rhode Island. 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,” said CFRP Program Director Anita Jacobson, PharmD.

Narcan kits are routinely carried by law enforcement and emergency medical personnel as well as mobile outreach workers from community-based recovery and harm reduction organizations. These organizations use weekly data from RIDOH to deploy their mobile outreach teams to overdose hotspots throughout Rhode Island and connect those at risk to harm reduction supplies, basic needs, treatment and recovery services as needed. The Narcan kits come with two doses of naloxone nasal spray that can be dispensed directly into the nostrils of someone who is overdosing.

According to RIDOH, three out of every four overdose deaths in 2020 involved fentanyl, which is often found in counterfeit pills being illicitly sold as oxycodone, Adderall or benzodiazepines. These counterfeit pills are even more lethal when crushed and snorted. Fentanyl can also be present in powders such as heroin, cocaine and other drugs.

The funding for the Foundation’s grant comes in part from its Behavioral Health Fund, which was created with funding from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island.

Resources for People Who Use Drugs and Their Loved Ones

  • Call Rhode Island’s 24/7 Buprenorphine Hotline401-606-5456, for help if you or someone you care about is experiencing opioid withdrawal. Callers can speak with a healthcare provider, learn about Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) options, and make a plan for treatment and recovery support.
  • Call BH Link401-414-LINK (5465), for immediate assistance with a mental health or substance use crisis. People can also visit BH Link’s drop-in center at 975 Waterman Ave. in East Providence. English and Spanish-speaking counselors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to offer support and connect callers to local resources.

Ryan Belmore is the Owner and Publisher of What's Up Newp. He was born and raised in Rhode Island and graduated from Coventry High School. He serves as Vice President of Fort Adams Trust and serves on the Board of Directors for Potter League for Animals. Ryan also is currently the Senior Editor - North America for Mountain News, publisher of OnTheSnow. Ryan is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers and North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA).