Rhode Island is still grappling with soaring numbers of drug overdose deaths, many of them involving the painkiller fentanyl. It's not clear the message about the dangers of fentanyl is reaching those at risk.
Since the beginning of the year, health officials say 51 people have died. Most of those deaths involved fentanyl, a drug that can be 50 times more potent than heroin, to which it is sometimes added. But Michelle McKenzie, head of the Miriam Hospital’s overdose prevention program, says drug users don’t always know it’s there.
“We explicitly have asked people if they’re able to identify it," said McKenzie. "Only a couple of people said, 'yeah, I think it’s lighter than heroin, it looks lighter than heroin.' But everyone else said 'no, we can’t tell what it looks like.'”
McKenzie says researchers and addiction specialists are now reaching out to drug users to find out what they know about fentanyl. They’re going to be asking whether users have heard about fentanyl, what they know about it, their feelings about it, and whether they're actively trying to avoid it or seek it out. But she says that research is only just beginning. In the meantime, she says, what's important is making sure drug users, their family, and friends know how to prevent an overdose or recognize the signs.