URI to offer opioid education, training to rural communities

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-2116 |

KINGSTON, R.I. – February 13, 2020 – Health professionals and students from the University of Rhode Island are gearing up to hit the road in an outreach campaign aimed to reach rural Rhode Islanders with education and training about opioid overdose and substance use disorder.

Thanks to a $1 million grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, personnel from URI’s College of Pharmacy, College of Nursing and Cooperative Extension will team up to visit farmers markets, fairs, festivals and a wide variety of other events to discuss issues related to opioids, hand out information about how to obtain naloxone and offer related health counseling.

“Our focus will be on removing the stigma associated with opioid misuse,” said Deborah Sheely, URI associate director of Cooperative Extension. “We’ll have a booth at these events with a private area where people can have confidential conversations, and we’ll have the right people there who are qualified to have those kinds of conversations.”

In addition to booths across the state, the South Kingstown Farmer’s Market will feature the URI Mobile Health Unit on Saturdays from 9 a.m.to 1 p.m., May through October, where substance use disorder screenings, health checks, referrals for care, and harm reduction supplies will be offered, including Hepatitis C and HIV screenings, fentanyl test strips, general wellness assessments, and naloxone. The Mobile Health Unit will be staffed with nurse practitioners under the supervision of program partner Diane Martins, URI professor of nursing.

The Community First Responder Program, led by Anita Jacobson, URI clinical associate professor of pharmacy, will build upon connections URI Cooperative Extension has already established with the agricultural industries and rural communities through programs like 4-H, Master Gardener, Watershed Watch and many others. The URI team will teach members of the community to recognize the signs of overdose and how to respond – including calling 911, administering naloxone and performing CPR – enabling community members to be true first responders.

The nasal spray naloxone is recommended for victims displaying the signs of an overdose, including loss of consciousness, lack of response to stimuli, slow, shallow breathing and bluish skin, especially around the mouth and fingernails.

“We want to make sure that the people we have traditionally served through Cooperative Extension – which tends to be people in more rural areas of the state – have the information and technical assistance they need about opioid misuse, information that is already widely available in urban areas,” Sheely said. “We’ll make sure to reach rural communities by collaborating with the Cooperative Extension programs and activities we routinely carry out.”

In addition to sharing information at community events, the grant is also funding the development of online training programs – six short modules for the public and URI staff and four continuing education programs with credit hours for health care professionals.

“I’m going to encourage all Cooperative Extension staff to take the trainings so they can recognize the signs of a potential opioid problem in the course of their day and direct clients to appropriate resources to get help,” said Sheely. “It will be a valuable training for interested members of the community.”

Community organizations in rural Rhode Island that are interested in hosting a seminar related to the opioid crisis with naloxone training and distribution and to become certified as “community first responders” are encouraged to contact uricfrp@gmail.com to schedule a presentation by Jacobson and a team of student pharmacists.

“We want to have as many people in the community as possible to be community first responders,” Jacobson said. “If people are educated about this and know how to recognize an overdose and how to recognize if someone is caught in the cycle of substance use disorder, we can save lives.”