Senate OKs Miller Bill to Explore ‘Harm Reduction Center’ Pilot

Effort Aimed at Reducing Overdose Deaths, Promoting Treatment

 

STATE HOUSE – The Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller to explore the creation of a pilot program to create “harm reduction centers” to help prevent drug overdose deaths.

The centers would be supervised facilities for drug users, staffed by health care professionals who could help in cases of overdose and make treatment referrals. Often referred to as “safe injection facilities” or “supervised consumption sites,” there are about 120 such facilities operating in 10 countries worldwide.

“If we are truly going to rein in the drug overdose epidemic, we must recognize drug addiction as the health problem it is, rather than as merely a crime. People who are addicted need help and protection from the most dangerous possibilities of addiction. Having a place where someone can save them from an overdose and where there are people offering them the resources they need for treatment is a much better alternative to people dying alone in their homes or their cars. Especially as overdose deaths have climbed during the pandemic and fentanyl-laced drugs continue to pose a lethal threat to unwitting users, we could prevent needless death and turn lives around with a program like this,” said Chairman Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence). 

The legislation (2021-S 0016A) would authorize the Department of Health to establish regulations and explore the creation of a harm reduction pilot program for people to safely consume controlled substances they have obtained on their own. The centers must be staffed with health care professionals to prevent overdoses and make treatment referrals. 

The bill also establishes a nine-member advisory committee made up of various stakeholders from the realms of health care, law enforcement and addiction to help the Department of Health maximize the effectiveness of the program and operate the centers in the safest possible way.

Under the bill, centers would be allowed only with the approval of the municipality in which they are located. In testimony on the bill, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza indicated willingness on behalf of Providence to be a host city, and two health care facilities indicated they would be willing to expand to incorporate the model. The bill also stipulates that the programs should be designed to provide liability protection to the centers’ property owners and to staff at the centers.

According the American Medical Association, studies of supervised injection facilities in other countries have demonstrated that they reduce overdose deaths and transmission rates for infectious disease, and increase the number of individuals who seek addiction treatment, without increasing drug trafficking or crime in the areas where they are located. 

While there are currently no such officially sanctioned sites in the United States, several other states and municipalities are considering similar harm reduction measures, including Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, California and Philadelphia. Somerville, Mass., is working to formalize an existing effort.

In an op-ed piece published by the Boston Globe this week, Brown University’s School of Public Health Dean Dr. Ashish K. Jha and associate professor of epidemiology Dr. Brandon D.L. Marshall called for harm reduction centers in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and across the nation, citing evidence that they save lives, prevent infection, increase access to recovery services, reduce crime and save money.

The bill is cosponsored by Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Dist.1, Providence), Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick), Sen. Stephen R. Archambault (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Providence, Johnston), Sen. Frank S.Lombardi (D-Dist. 26, Cranston),  Sen. Frank A. Ciccone III (D-Dist. 7, Providence, North Providence), Sen. Ana B. Quezada (D-Dist. 2, Providence), Sen. Frank Lombardo III (D-Dist. 26, Johnston), Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham) and Sen. Melissa A. Murray (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield).

It now goes to the House, where Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth) is sponsoring companion legislation (2021-H 5245).

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