Rhode Island Had a Sharp Rise in Overdose Deaths in 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic was devastating in many ways. First, there’s the health effects of the disease itself and the hundreds of thousands of deaths due to the virus. Then, there is the profound strain it caused on hospitals and the healthcare workers, as well as the profound economic toll, stress, and isolation that everyone suffered. Unfortunately, these indirect mental health effects seem to coincide with record numbers of overdoses as well.

According to preliminary data, approximately 93,000 people suffered fatal overdoses in 2020. This marked the largest one-year spike in overdoses since the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) started tracking the data in 1999. In Rhode Island, between January and November of 2020 alone, 356 people died of a drug overdose, which is already the largest total number of fatal overdoses in a single year, and a 14% increase when compared to 2019.

In addition to the economic and emotional effects of the pandemic, the spread of the virus and subsequent lockdowns decreased access to drug treatment for many people. Availability of addiction treatment has always been an issue, with only 10% of Americans 12 years old and above that are classified as needing help for substance use actually receiving it. The most significant barrier to addiction treatment has long been the out-of-pocket cost of treatment for patients with or without the help of insurance—a problem that was likely further exacerbated by job loss during the pandemic.

But it’s not just the pandemic that can be blamed for the increase in overdose deaths. Synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, have been found in a large percentage of these overdose cases and in an increasing number of drug busts. Fentanyl, which is around 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, was found in 73% of Rhode Island overdose cases in 2020. The drug is cheap to produce, leading some drug manufacturers and dealers to lace their product with fentanyl to increase the potency of inferior heroin, cocaine, or pressed pills. Officials have warned that even prescription pills bought on the black market may contain fentanyl, despite being visually indistinguishable from the non-counterfeit version.

Fortunately, for people struggling with addiction and their loved ones, there is hope. Substance use disorder (SUD) is a treatable condition. Many people have been able to get sober and continue leading fulfilling lives in recovery. It often just requires getting the right help.

Addiction treatment is a highly individualized process. However, effective facilities like AdCare are able to work with patients to tailor a plan to fit their specific needs, with multiple levels of care and an empathetic staff equipped to help people withdraw safely and build the skills necessary to remain sober.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, please reach out to an admissions navigator at to learn more.

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