The case of Aaron Andrade could be a turning point in Rhode Island, but we are years away from knowing.
Last week, the 25-year-old pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of 29-year-old Kristen Coutu. Andrade was given a 40-year sentence, with 20 to serve and the rest under probation. Coutu, a Cranston resident, bought $40 worth of heroin from Andrade in February 2014. According to a release from Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin’s office, she died soon after injecting herself with what turned out to be fentanyl.
The release notes that “this is believed to be the first time in Rhode Island that an individual has pleaded to a second-degree murder charge for selling illicit drugs, and specifically fentanyl, that led to an overdose death.”
The precedent could be significant as the opioid epidemic spins out of control nationally. The statistics are staggering. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 650,000 opioid prescriptions are issued every day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that since 1999 the amount of overdose deaths due to opioids have quadrupled. From 2000 to 2015, more than 500,000 have fallen victim to the epidemic.
While these numbers have risen dramatically, the CDC also says that Americans have seen no noticeable changes in the amount of pain they feel. Whether it be oxycodone, hydrocodone or the aforementioned fentanyl-laced heroin, opioid overdoses are running rampant across the United States.
CDC figures show that Rhode Island, from 2014 to 2015 alone, experienced a 20.5 percent hike in drug overdose death rate. That is the seventh-highest rate in the country.
Becker’s Hospital Review, a hospital trade publication, revealed that, from 2014 to June of last year, Rhode Island was 35th in the country with 205 opioid-related overdoses. Neighbor Massachusetts was seventh overall in that span, logging 1,140 deaths.
Finally, the Vox website released a particularly sobering piece on March 29 showing a bar graph of the 52,404 drug overdoses in the United States in 2015. That’s almost 10,000 more deaths than the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis in 1995.
Holding dealers like Andrade accountable is a small step in the right direction. Fentanyl, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Maybe Andrade’s murder plea will deter others from distributing heroin laced with fentanyl, but the problem is much bigger.
The Cranston Police Department recently started a collection box for old prescription bottles in an effort to deter adolescents from finding and trying the medications within.
The American opioid epidemic doesn’t seem to be ending soon, but cases like Andrade’s provide a pinhole of light at the end of a pitch-black tunnel.