'We've been hit with a tidal wave of overdoses': Health leader calls for change

John Tassoni is the new president of the Substance Use and Mental Health Leadership Council of Rhode Island. (WJAR)

WARWICK, R.I. (WJAR) — A local health leader says things need to change about how opioid overdoses are handled.

John Tassoni is the new president of the Substance Use and Mental Health Leadership Council of Rhode Island.

"My priority is to be a big mouth, someone people need to pay attention to,” said Tassoni.

He said it is a critical time as the number of people dying from opioid overdoses continues to climb.

The trade organization represents over 33 agencies working to treat mental health issues and prevent substance abuse.

Tassoni’s job is to advocate for them.

"You can't get a bed in Rhode Island. You have to wait three, five days, a week. I'm trying to get someone in treatment right now and it's already been a week. No beds, so where does that person go?" said Tassoni.

Most of the time, people go into the hospitals and into the emergency rooms, which get clogged up, creating more problems.

Tassoni said the state should invest in certified community behavioral health clinics to build capacity.

"We lose one provider, and you might as well pack a lunch and a suitcase because you're going to end up in the ER for a long period of time,” Tassoni told NBC 10.


A patient being wheeled into a hospital on a gurney. (WJAR)

Rhode Island is the first state to require health professionals and hospitals to report opioid overdoses within 48 hours. The reporting started in 2016, and for the first quarter in 2022, there have been 357 emergency department visits.

"I think we've been hit with a tidal wave of overdoses at a short period of time where it's hard for organizations to get the resources to add on,” Tassoni added.

More community health clinics could help with that.

Tassoni also wants investments in recovery housing for people fresh out of treatment. Deep-restricted affordable housing would come after that as a long-term solution.

NBC 10 asked if the next Rhode Island governor needs to make this a priority.

"I think the next governor needs to sit where you're sitting and we need to a have a face-to-face conversation about what's really happening in the state,” Tassoni answered. “I don't think they get it, no matter who they are, until they spend the day with me and answer the questions that are called into my phone all the time."