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R.I. officials say dangerous opiate now in pill form

PROVIDENCE — A dangerous illegal opiate drug blamed for 14 overdose deaths in Rhode Island this year is being sold in pill form and packaged to look like oxycodone, state health officials warned.

Dr. Michael Fine, director of the state Department of Health, said in a statement Saturday that officials previously found the opiate, acetyl fentanyl, in injectable form. He said a new analysis by the State Health Laboratories found the drug in pills that were brought in for testing.

“With an average of four people dying per week due to drug overdoses, we need the people of Rhode Island to know what dangers are out on our streets,” Fine said. “People who may think they are buying oxycodone on the street could actually be buying something that we know has already taken the lives of 14 people in Rhode Island.”

Acetyl fentanyl is illegal, not approved by federal regulators and not prescribed by doctors in any form. It’s being blamed for deaths across the country.

More than 180 Rhode Island residents died from unintentional drug overdoses last year, and prescription drugs were involved in 119 of them, state health officials said. The total of 182 fatal accidental overdoses was up from 137 in 2009.

The state’s overdose death rate, including suicides, is the highest in New England, according to a recent study by the Trust For America’s Health nonprofit that looked at data from the Centers for Disease Control. Rhode Island has the 13th highest overdose death rate in the nation, down from seventh a few years ago.

Last month, the state received an $11 million, five-year federal grant to target substance abuse by teens and young adults.

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