Health care professionals must report opioid overdoses under new RI health regulation

By Frank Connor

Under a new Rhode Island Department of Health regulation, health care professionals and hospitals must report opioid overdoses or suspected overdoses within 48 hours.

Declaring opioid-related overdose deaths in the state a “public health epidemic,” the Department of Health said the new reporting requirement will help identify the risk factors for overdose, and identify individuals for substance abuse treatments.

The state has seen over 80 overdose deaths involving opioids so far in 2014, ranking it among the highest in the country for per capita overdose deaths. Many of the deaths are related to the use of fentanyl and heroin. Use of prescription oxycodone and other narcotic painkillers has also been increasing in Rhode Island the last several years, according to the Department Health.

The new regulation mandates that physicians, physician assistants, and registered nurses who attend or treat (or who are requested to attend or treat) an opioid-related drug overdose must report the case to the Department within 48 hours. Health care professionals must transmit the reporting form to the Department via facsimile transmission on a secure phone line (401.222.4415).

The regulation imposes the same reporting requirement on hospitals in which an opioid-related drug overdose is treated or attended, or in which attention or treatment is requested for an overdose.

Health care professionals and hospitals are also required (where feasible) to draw one blood specimen (10 cc red top tube) from any victim of a chemical overdose who is a potential fatality referable to the medical examiner. The sample can be discarded if the patient is discharged alive. If a patient does not survive, the treating medical professional and/or hospital must send the blood sample to the Office of the State Medical Examiner.

Compliance with the regulation absolves health care professionals and hospitals from any criminal or civil liability arising out of submission of the reports and/or delivering blood samples.

Frank Connor is a partner at Barton Gilman LLP. He has dedicated his career to defending medical professionals in the courts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, before the licensing boards in both states, and against billing investigations by private healthcare insurers as well as state and federal authorities.