Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association Executive Director Sid Wordell speaks on Thursday, Jan. 19 at the Brown University School of Public Health during a press event regarding the fentanyl crisis. (Photo courtesy Office of Senator Jack Reed)
PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association Executive Director Sid Wordell joined federal, state and public health officials last week to address the fentanyl crisis and the importance of provisions included in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) related to the fentanyl crisis.
Wordell joined U.S. Senator Jack Reed, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha, and experts and researchers at the Brown University School of Public Health on Thursday, Jan. 19 to share ongoing efforts and advocate for collaborative action to combat the fentanyl crisis.
In 2010, federal data reported just over 21,000 overdose deaths nationwide. Just over a decade later, overdose deaths have increased to over 107,000. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) attributes a majority of overdose deaths to opioids, and notes an increase in deaths involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Rhode Island Department of Health data shows 435 accidental overdoses in 2021 for both opioid involved and non-opioid involved fatalities.
According to the CDC, illicitly manufactured fentanyl is available on the drug market in different forms, including liquid and powder. The CDC also notes that powdered fentanyl looks like many other drugs and is commonly mixed with drugs because of its potency. Fentanyl-laced drugs are extremely dangerous and many people may be unaware that their drugs are laced with fentanyl.
During Thursday’s event, Executive Director Wordell spoke of increasing overdose data and the deaths caused by substances that are used knowingly or unknowingly in combination with other drugs.
“The focus of today’s conversation makes us recognize that we have an increasing population with substance use illnesses putting them at risk,” Executive Director Wordell said. “More often than not, it isn’t the known substance they are using but the ‘hidden killer’ added to it.”
Brown researchers at the event discussed an animal tranquilizer called xylazine, also known as “tranq dope,” that is being linked to deadly overdoses in Rhode Island and other states. Xylazine is a non-opioid veterinary tranquilizer that is not approved for human use. Medications like naloxone, designed to reverse drug overdoses from opioids, don’t work against xylazine.
Brown research completed through the testRI program found that 44% of its tested samples contained xylazine. The testRI study analyzing Rhode Island’s local drug supply also found high amounts of illicit fentanyl in samples.
Sen. Reed discussed ways in which the federal government can evolve its response, education, outreach and enforcement strategies. Sen. Reed helped include several provisions in the newly signed NDAA and omnibus appropriations law to keep fentanyl off the streets, crack down on drug traffickers and help prevent fentanyl-related overdoses.
“This is a crisis that is trending in the wrong direction and the federal government needs to step up and be a reliable partner,” said Sen. Reed, noting a pair of provisions in the NDAA law designed to help crack down on fentanyl traffickers:
The Fighting Emerging Narcotics Through Additional Nations to Yield Lasting (FENTANYL) Results Act, which directs the U.S. State Department to build foreign law enforcement capacity to detect synthetic drugs and carry out an international exchange program for drug demand reduction experts; and
The Protecting America’s Borders Against Fentanyl Act, which requires that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) work with other agencies to research additional technologies to target and detect illicit fentanyl, including the chemicals used to make it. The provision also requires the Office of National Drug Control Policy to develop strategies to effectively evaluate region-specific goals to interdict drug trafficking.
Additionally, the omnibus appropriations law will boost funding for the CDC to support community-based overdose prevention activities. Overall, the law provides $4.9 billion to address opioid use, an increase of over $345 million above fiscal year 2022 levels.
“Over the last few years, Sen. Reed has helped Rhode Island obtain federal funds through many initiatives, like the Hope Initiative and community outreach programs, which complement the work of the Governor’s Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force and RI law enforcement efforts,” Executive Director Wordell said Thursday. “The most recent funding announced by the Senator will help us to build on those efforts. Without these types of additional funds, we are unable to work with practitioners and researchers like the Brown University School of Public Health to help us educate our first responders and community stakeholders to find manageable solutions.”
The law also extends the emergency scheduling of fentanyl analogues through Dec. 31, 2024. This extension of the classification of fentanyl as a Schedule 1 substance enables law enforcement to prosecute those who make and distribute the drug.