CPD, CFD weigh in on opioid crisis

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It may just be a drop in the ocean right now, but Cranston Police Chief Col. Michael Winquist hopes the second-degree murder plea by Aaron Andrade is a sign of things to come.

Andrade, 25, pled guilty to the charge surrounding the death of 29-year-old Cranston resident Kristen Coutu. Coutu died from a fatal overdose of fentanyl, which Andrade sold to her in February 2014. He was handed a 40-year sentence, 20 of which will be served and the rest suspended under probation.

“We’re hoping that it has some kind of deterring effect on people who are thinking of dealing drugs, especially heroine and fentanyl, then you will be held accountable if someone dies from your actions,” Col. Winquist said. “We’re attacking this [epidemic] from different angles.”

Cranston is no exception to the national opioid epidemic. Col. Winquist said that his department receives a notification about an overdose every seven to 10 days. Every two to three weeks, however, the overdose is usually fatal.

While Col. Winquist knows that Andrade’s arrest, one of the first of its kind in the state, won’t solve the issue, it is at least a step in the right direction.

“Enforcement is an important component, we are out there attacking the problem best we can,” Col. Winquist said. “We are putting our resources towards doing raids and people dealing heroine and fentanyl. This [case] sends an important message that you can’t sell drugs with impunity.”

Col. Winquist said the situation has exploded over recent years for a couple of reasons. Heroin has become more powerful, especially if it is laced with fentanyl. Since it can be introduced to the body easier in the modern day, its reputation has changed from a drug that once needed an injection.

“For some reason heroin has turned into a very popular drug,” Col. Winquist said. “Other drugs were more acceptable in society although mainly you used to have to inject it get high and anyone who uses needles or things of that nature, it’s not a popular drug for that reason. What happened is the potency of the drugs out there, especially heroin, people can snort heroin and get high. So that made the stigma a lot less than it was before.”

The addition of fentanyl to some batches of heroin has also spiked the death count. The National Institute of Drug Abuse notes that fentanyl is usually reserved for patients in excruciating pain or to relieve pain following surgery. Col. Winquist said that two grains of fentanyl is enough to kill a person.

“People are dying on their first try, in some cases it’s straight fentanyl,” Col. Winquist said. “The people who don’t die get such a rush, such a high that they become immediately addicted. One time and you can have a lifetime of addiction. There is treatment but sometimes it takes two to three times to get off. It might be a lifetime addiction, we see it way too often.”

He added that the overdoses are not particular to one economic background, either.

“These are people from all segments of society,” Col. Winquist said. “These are people that were professionals in their field. People who had good upbringings, people who come from a wide range of economic backgrounds.”

Paul Casey, deputy chief of EMS, said that the department’s use of the overdose drug, Narcan, has been fairly consistent over the past couple of years. According to his numbers, from June 2014 to May 2015, Narcan nasal spray was used 182 times. That number jumped only slightly to 185 from June 2015 to May 2016. That averages out to about 3.5 times a week.

March of this year saw 19 uses of Narcan.

“Compared to five years ago, sure,” Casey said about whether there’s been a spike in overdoses. “I have been running this division for three years and there’s definitely been an uptick.”

Col. Winquist said his department would continue to focus on educating the public about the opioid crisis. The CPD takes part in the DEA’s National Take-Back Initiative to help remove expired prescription medications from homes. There is a box at the station where bottles can be discarded and disposed of at the proper location.

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is on April 29 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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