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Overdoses in Warwick or, anatomy of a story

April 17, 2012

It happens sometimes. I notice headlines jumping across the internet about a local event/story I didn’t know about.  In this case, the reports were about a press conference at Kent Hospital. Doctors had noticed a fast jump in patients dying from drug overdoses, specifically prescription drug overdoses.

Somehow I didn’t get the press release. We could blame the email gremlins or my quick “delete” finger. Either way, I didn’t look into the story. It seemed like a fluke- Rhode Island Hospital said it hadn’t noticed any increases.

But today was a slow news day, and we needed to put something on the radio. I called around, feeling grumpy about chasing yesterday’s news. I finally landed an interview with Rhode Island Hospital, expecting doctors to say the Kent Hospital numbers were random, or a great reminder of a constant problem.

Then  I interview Dr. Kavita Babu and she said something interesting- this spike at Kent reflects something researchers already know- Warwick has a prescription drug abuse problem.

RI Hospital researcher Traci Green says she discovered this trend in 2009 when she took data from Rhode Island’s medical examiner and looked at drug related deaths across the state.  When she mapped out the prescription drug related deaths, she noticed a large cluster  in the Warwick area.

In the case of Warwick, it actually had the highest number and the highest rate for prescription pill involved deaths.

So Green applied for a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to figure out why this was happening in Warwick.  She says her team spent last summer interviewing more than 100 residents, trying to figure out the causes for prescription drug abuse. They’re analyzing the results and will finish up in the fall. Green says it’s not totally clear what’s going on in Warwick, but she has some ideas. Perhaps it has something to do with being a suburb?

These are areas that don’t traditionally don’t have very good access to drug treatment or where the shame of drug use might be even more punishing.

But come on, most of Rhode Island is suburban. Why isn’t Cranston showing the same rates? Or East Providence? Green is still sorting through the data, so more insights might emerge.  All in all, a fascinating story.  And for me, a lesson- sometimes “old” news has more to offer than you think!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Richard Asinof permalink
    April 23, 2012 9:00 am

    When I wrote about Traci Green’s research last summer in PBN (July 4, 2011 issue) about the prevalence of drug overdoses from prescription pain killers, the story didn’t get picked up by the other health care reporters, but it was noticed by Dr, Michael Fine at the R.I. Dept. of Health. He changed his public health priorities as a result, and helped push forward a prescription monitoring program. A closer look at the data from Warwick shows that the flurry of the most recent ODs were divided between prescription drugs (60 percent) and heroin (40 percent), it was 50-50 male, female, and the ages of the victim were all under 25. the issue is more than urban vs. suburban, although the fact that the spike in ODs is occurring in places like Warwick and not, say, one of the state’s core urban areas, punctures the classic stereotype that drug abuse is a inner city problem, i also think it obscures the larger issue. The story is about the easy access to (and low cost of) prescription pain killers (opioids). Why is the co-pay so low for these pain killers? They have become the drug of choice for young adults in Rhode Island, according to recent surveys.

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