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How Rhode Island is using tech to tackle the opioid epidemic

Leveraging the latest innovations in technology, the Rhode Island State Police tackles the opioid epidemic with stride

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After combating the opioid epidemic with technology, the Rhode Island State Police has advice to depart to other law enforcement agencies.


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By Matthew C. Moynihan, Captain, Rhode Island State Police; Director, Heroin-Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE)

An average of 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the CDC. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, there were more than 4,500 opioid-related deaths in Canada in 2018. The opioid crisis has touched every state and province and damaged countless lives. Public safety and public health leaders are actively working to address this crisis. One example of an innovative approach comes from the Rhode Island State Police partnership with the Heroin-Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE) Initiative as a way to turn the tide against this epidemic.

Overcoming initial challenges

In Rhode Island, a critical challenge we’ve faced while addressing the opioid-overdose epidemic has been a lack of reliable data. Without access to good data, our understanding of the scope of the crisis is limited. By gathering information from first responders and creating an alert system that provides us with real-time data, we are able to track overdose reports and have the information and resources we need to follow up with every person who has survived an overdose.

Another challenge is that some believe the responsibility of addressing the opioid crisis falls more heavily on public health rather than law enforcement. The HOPE Initiative is a true partnership between public safety and public health, and every day we are working to challenge that long-held belief. Only by collaborating across all disciplines will we be able to make progress with this staggering community crisis.

Why bring technology into Rhode Island’s battle with the opioid crisis?

The HOPE Initiative is maximizing the use of technology across every part of our program. We’ve integrated our alert system with a customized case management platform, connected to the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (ODMAP) and are looking to develop an app to help officers access the information they need to support recovery. Deploying these solutions is the best use of resources because it saves officers’ time, allowing us to do more outreaches and connect with more Rhode Islanders in need of services.

Technology can be used to further increase our efforts in battling the opioid crisis, such as raising awareness and eliminating stigma through the use of social media and other online applications. We have consistently used technology to be more efficient with the use of our time and continue to explore other areas where technology can assist in our efforts. We have recently launched a partnership with the Herren Project to provide online support groups for families of HOPE Initiative clients. The Herren Project is an addiction treatment, recovery and prevention organization founded by former Boston Celtics player Chris Herren who struggled with addiction for years. As technology continues to evolve, there will be other opportunities to educate and engage people about substance-use disorder and addiction – the potential possibilities that new and emerging tech offer are just waiting to be discovered.

Most beneficial part of the HOPE Initiative

We are fortunate to have an extremely collaborative law enforcement community in Rhode Island with good existing relationships between the State Police and the municipal departments. The HOPE Initiative has allowed for increased communication and a universal approach to the opioid overdose challenge. Regardless of what community a person is from or where they experience an overdose, they are eligible for our program. This gives smaller departments access to resources they would not have had otherwise and a roadmap on how to address related challenges in their own community. The training the HOPE Initiative has provided to officers around the state helps to increase understanding of substance use disorders which we hope will erase the stigma surrounding addiction.

Spreading HOPE: Advice for other law enforcement agencies

Two things we have learned is that collaboration among all stakeholders is essential and that outreach — truly meeting people “where they are” — is a critical, ideal role for law enforcement. Many programs are available to people who are ready to tackle recovery, but there are very few that identify and contact those in need of services.

We were able to set up the HOPE Initiative in Rhode Island as a statewide program because of our small size and collaborative law enforcement community. However, a similar outreach program could be scaled to other states or across several counties.

Every day brings a new set of challenges, and there are uplifting moments when you know that you are having a positive impact on another person’s life. From a law enforcement perspective, it’s been extremely rewarding to be working in the community as the program develops and to have an opportunity to see a transformation in a person’s life. This program not only helps those struggling, but also provides law enforcement officers with a renewed enthusiasm for helping those in their communities who are in need.