America’s smallest state, densely populated Rhode Island has roughly one million residents, yet the state ranks fifth in the nation for drug overdoses per capita. According to the Department of Health of the State of Rhode Island, opioid overdoses are the state’s leading cause of accidental death. The state is fighting back with busts on drug dealers and proposed legislation affecting pharmaceutical companies.
Recent Drug Bust
Dealing a significant blow to a major Rhode Island drug operation, on August 9, Rhode Island state police arrested 21 persons suspected of involvement in two public shootings in the capital city of Providence. The arrests followed a three-month investigation known as Operation Heat. Police say that Janssye Toucet, 32, from North Providence, and Tatiana Flores, 24, from Providence, are being held in connection with both shootings, which likely stemmed from rival street gang conflict. The other 19 people arrested in the drug bust are from North Providence, Providence, Cranston, Johnston, Warwick and Woonsocket.
The first shooting occurred May 20 on the Spruce Street sidewalk outside Club Seven. During that incident, two people were shot, sustaining injuries that were not life threatening. The second shooting happened near the El Patio night club on June 16, at which time one of those later arrested was shot and hospitalized. Investigators said that Toucet was both the orchestrator and planner of a string of very violent crimes plaguing Providence in the past year, and the director of a significant narcotics distribution organization posing a threat to the entire state of Rhode Island.
Leading up to the arrests, police obtained and executed 45 search warrants, resulting in the seizure of illegal controlled substances that included the opiates fentanyl, heroin and cocaine, along with $48,315, four firearms and 13 vehicles. Police said wiretapping authorized by the court under the Title Three investigation was necessary to apprehend Toucet and alleged members of his drug organization. The investigation continues and police expect more arrests to follow.
Rhode Island As a Victim in the Opioid Crisis
As reported in USA Today, the Rhode Island county of Providence (which also includes the capital city of Providence) is the state’s worst county for drug problems, and opiates are a huge contributor to the opioid crisis that continues to plague the state. In 2017, 67.8 percent of the total of 70,237 drug overdose deaths in the United States involved opiates. Noting that every state in America has at least one county with the worst drug problem, the publication said that poverty, fewer resources for treatment, social isolation, and limited economic opportunities characterize many of the communities most affected by the scourge of drug addiction and drug overdose.
Among the 42 of 50 state counties with a poverty rate above the 14.6 percent national figure, Rhode Island’s Providence county racked up 30.1 (per 100,000 residents) annual drug overdose deaths, compared with 27.9 statewide. Drug-related deaths for 2013 to 2017 were 953 in Providence county and 1,475 for Rhode Island. With its population of 633,704, Providence county has a poverty rate of 16.7 percent, compared to 13.4 percent for the state. Adding to Rhode Island’s woes, Providence county is also ranked the worst county to live in the state.
Legislation to Crack Down on the Pharmaceutical Rep Mismanagement that Caused Over-Prescribing
The practice of “have an ill, pop a little pill” has led to an epidemic of over-prescribing prescription drugs across America, including Rhode Island, long hit hard by the national opioid crisis. Things may soon get a little better, however, due in part to the introduction of proposed legislation to crack down on widespread mismanagement of pharmaceutical reps that helped create and fuel the atmosphere of over-prescribing. On January 24, 2019, Rhode Island Senate Bill 0136 was introduced that would require all manufacturers of prescription drugs to file with the department of business regulation a detailed and updated list for each pharmaceutical sales rep they employ, and to pay an annual $55 fee for each listed name. Violations may incur a penalty of up to $10,000 per instance.
After a hearing by the state’s Senate Committee of Health and Human Services held March 28, 2019, during which proponents and opposition to the proposed legislation gave testimony, the committee recommended that the measure be held for further study by the Senate Health and Services Committee. The bill’s sponsors include five Democratic Senators: Joshua Miller, Adam Satchell, Susan Sosnowski, Gayle Goldin and Bridget Valverde.
Provisions of S0136
Senate Bill 0136: An Act Relating to Business and Professions – Prescription Drug Sales – Representative Disclosure Act, is currently under study. If passed unchanged, the legislation would also require the following:
The department of business regulation must provide electronic access to the current list submitted by each manufacturer to all state-certified, licensed or registered health care providers, as well as medical facility operators, pharmacy operators, and the general public. Any pharmaceutical sales rep whose name isn’t listed cannot market a manufacturer’s prescription drugs to any health care provider, pharmacy/pharmaceutical employee, or medical facility operator/employee.
By March 1 each year, individuals registered on the list must annually file a report with the department of business regulation, to include:
- Names of all health care providers, pharmacies/pharmaceutical employees, and medical facility operators/employees to whom the sales rep gave anything valued over $10.00 or total compensation valued in excess of $100.00, in aggregate
- Name and manufacturer for each prescription drug that the sales rep gave a free sample to
By June 1 each year, the department of business regulation will compile a report from the collected, analyzed data, sending it to the governor, department of health director, office of health insurance commissioner, house speaker and senate president, and posting it on the department’s website.
Help for Opiate and Other Addictions
Such measures may go a long way to address Rhode Island’s opiate epidemic at the more macro level. At the micro level, however—in terms of the individuals and families impacted by addiction—another solution is necessary: treatment. With a medically supervised detox, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and inpatient therapies that address the causes of their disorder, many people have found recovery from opiate and other addictions. Contact FHE Health today to learn more about your treatment options.