RI’s new US Attorney talks about the opioid crisis and corruption in the ‘know-a-guy’ state

Extremely small amounts of the drug can cause respiratory failure, he said.

“The next thing you know, unless somebody is there with Narcan, that can be the end,” Cunha said. “You see that happen with college kids or other folks who are taking what they think are Adderall pills or some other prescription medication.”

Last year, Rhode Island became the first state to authorize “harm reduction centers” statewide when it passed legislation for centers where people “may safely consume pre-obtained controlled substances under the supervision of health care professionals.” While none of those centers have opened in Rhode Island yet, advocates expect them to face a legal challenge based on prohibitions in federal law.

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Cunha said the US Department of Justice is looking at this issue nationally because similar proposals have been made elsewhere, and officials are “talking about what, if any, appropriate guardrails ought to be put in place where such a center or facility to open.”

While he’s limited in what he can discuss because of litigation elsewhere, he said, “If there were an actual proposal that were to come to fruition and open, we would look at the facts and circumstances of that individual center.”

But this is not purely a law enforcement issue, Cunha said. “It’s also important that we look to other avenues for providing support for recovery and the ability of people to overcome addiction and move on with their lives,” he said.

Cunha noted his office entered an agreement last week with the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls to ensure that detainees who were being treated for opioid use disorder will continue to receive treatment while behind bars, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

An investigation revealed Wyatt had prohibited methadone and buprenorphine from being used by detainees, and no assessment was done to determine if they should keep using those treatments.

Meanwhile, Cunha said public corruption remains a priority for his office.

“People need to have confidence in their government and that decisions are being made on the merits and not because somebody knows a guy,” he said. “The reality in Rhode Island is there’s a regrettable history of that at all levels. And our office has a proud history of going after that kind of conduct.”

Cunha said he could not comment on reports that his office is involved in the investigation of a controversial education contract for up to $5.2 million that Governor Daniel J. McKee’s administration awarded to ILO Group, a consulting firm that formed two days after McKee took office .

“What I can say is it’s very common for us in any kind of situation that involves public money or public decision making to look at a particular issue, to conduct a review of the situation, to determine if further investigative action or enforcement action, civil , criminal or otherwise, is warranted,” he said. “Given this state and its history, we feel it’s important that the public have confidence in the decision-making that goes on in connection with any project or award or significant political activity.”

Cunha also recounted how he began working as assistant corporation counsel for the City of New York on Sept. 10, 2001 – the day before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

He recalled walking to his office, which was two doors from the World Trade Center.

“I got about halfway up that street and saw what looked to me like a ticker tape parade,” Cunha said. “There was something falling from the sky. Little bits of paper. As I got closer, you could actually see some of these bits of paper falling to the ground. And it wasn’t ticker tape. It was paper that had been blown out after the impact on the North Tower.”

Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.

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