Health officials are encouraging Rhode Island residents to carry an overdose-reversal medication because of the number of opioid overdoses that occur in public places.
The state Department of Health said Monday about 34 percent of the opioid overdoses emergency medical personnel responded to in 2018 occurred in public places, including streets, restaurants and beaches. That's up from 31 percent in 2017 and about 30 percent in 2016.
The department urged residents to carry naloxone if they're comfortable doing so.
Naloxone is as easy to use as nasal spray and available over the counter at pharmacies throughout Rhode Island, said Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott.
"This is a changing epidemic," she said in a statement. "With so many overdoses happening in everyday places, and sometimes in plain sight, everyone can play a role in preventing overdoses and saving lives."
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has also urged more people to carry naloxone. In April , Adams issued the office's first national public health advisory in 13 years, calling on more Americans to start carrying naloxone and urging more federal money to be dedicated to broadening access.
Adams said he hopes those who are at risk, their friends and family members, and community members who come into contact with people at risk for opioid overdose will keep the antidote on hand and learn how to use it.
The drug is available without a prescription in most states. It's regularly used by first responders nationwide.
The FDA warning on naloxone nasal spray says some people may experience symptoms when they wake up, such as shaking, sweating, nausea or feeling angry.
A good Samaritan law in Rhode Island protects people from legal liability if they are making a good faith effort to assist a person in a medical emergency, including a suspected overdose.
Rhode Island saw a decrease in opioid-related overdose deaths for the first 10 months of 2018. The annual total will be available in a few weeks.
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