According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Rhode Island (RI) had the second highest percentage of residents with past-month illicit drug use in the country. And not much has changed in the last ten years.

In 2018, 314 people in RI died from accidental overdoses. The public health crisis has gotten so bad that Rhode Island has the 9th highest overdose death rate in the United States. Substance abuse is a major issue across all age groups and particularly amongst men.

These are the 6 drugs that are the most abused in Rhode Island.

#1. Heroin

Heroin needle with a spoon

In the early 2000s, Providence was a noted New England hub for shipments of South American heroin. These days, Rhode Island is in the midst of a full-blown opioid epidemic. Consider the following:

  • In 2014, 31% of treatment admissions in the state were for heroin.
  • In 2016, Rhode Island became the first state to offer medication assisted treatment (MAT) to prison inmates addicted to heroin and opioids. This move to prevent post-release relapses and fatal overdoses has proven to be successful.
  • Heroin sold east of the Mississippi tends to be in a white powder form that is easily cut with dangerous fentanyl.

#2. Prescription Drugs

Open prescription drug bottle
Prescription Drugs

In 2012, Rhode Island ranked 17th out of the states for prescribing high-dose opioid pain relievers. Opioid medications are extremely addictive. When prescriptions run out, Rhode Islanders have turned to illicit drugs.

These include prescription opioids (oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine), benzodiazepines and stimulants, as well as street drugs such as fentanyl and heroin.

  • Between 2010 and 2014, a quarter of emergency department visits for prescription drug overdoses involved RI residents under the age of 21.
  • In 2009, prescription drugs accounted for at least 62% of overdose deaths in Rhode Island. In 2018, this figure dropped to 11%. While still a problem, overdose deaths from prescription drugs are lower than they were a decade ago.

#3. Fentanyl

Needle filled with Fentanyl

While prescription drug overdoses have gone down, deaths from fentanyl have gone up at alarming rates.

  • Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid and the substance is increasingly being found in other drugs including heroin. Law enforcement in Rhode Island recently seized significant amounts of fentanyl-laced cocaine.
  • In 2018, more than 70% of overdose deaths in RI were linked to fentanyl.
  • In many cases, users are unaware that they are consuming fentanyl. Fentanyl test strips are a good way of checking if drugs are mixed with the substance.

#4. Cocaine

A pile of cocaine with a 100 dollar bill

Labeled as an illicit stimulant, cocaine comes in two main forms: crack cocaine and powdered cocaine. Crack cocaine is smoked and is highly addictive. Powder cocaine is inhaled and users are not necessarily addicts. But the growing presence of fentanyl in Rhode Island’s cocaine supply has drawn this subset of drug users into the opioid epidemic.

Other interesting facts related to cocaine use in RI include:

  • In 2014, 7.5% of treatment admissions in RI were primarily for cocaine misuse.
  • Black high schoolers in Rhode Island are at greater risk for cocaine and methamphetamine use than they are elsewhere in the states.

#5. Alcohol

An Alcoholic drink with a person slumped over

Alcoholic beverages are legal and easily accessible in the United States. As a result, it’s one of the most abused substances in the country, and Rhode Island is no different. In fact, Rhode Islanders consume more alcohol than their compatriots. Fatal motor vehicle crashes involving alcohol are a major problem in the state.

Take a look at these alcohol-related statistics:

  • RI has the region’s highest rates of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis deaths.
  • In 2014, 37% of treatment admissions were primarily for alcohol dependence.
  • A Brown University study found that when compared to the national averages, more Rhode Islanders aged 18-25 needed treatment for alcohol abuse and were not getting it.

#6. Marijuana

A bottle of marijuana buds spilling out of a prescription bottle

The recreational use of marijuana is still illegal in Rhode Island. This is at odds with usage statistics in the state.

In RI, marijuana consumption at the high school level is above the national average. In 2017, about 23% of the high school population in Rhode Island reported current marijuana use. Teen marijuana use is concerning because the substance can affect brain development.

In addition:

  • Between 2013 and 2014, RI’s past-month marijuana consumption was higher than the national average across all age groups.
  • Use rates have increased faster in RI than in other states, especially amongst residents older than 26.
  • In terms of perceptions of smoking marijuana once a month, Rhode Islanders are less worried about adverse effects than the national average.
  • Contrary to popular belief, marijuana can be addictive. In 2014, 9% of treatment admissions in RI were primarily for marijuana use disorders.

Get Treatment for Substance Abuse in Rhode Island

If you or someone you know is dependent on substances, help is at hand. A treatment program will give you the best chance at a productive and happy future. Get in touch with one of our Rehab Advisers to discuss your rehab options and take the first step towards sobriety.



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