House passes Edwards bill to authorize harm reduction center pilot program to combat overdose deaths


STATE HOUSE — The House of Representatives today passed legislation introduced by Majority Floor Manager John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth) that would authorize a two-year pilot program to prevent drug overdoses through the establishment of harm reduction centers, which are a community-based resource for health screening, disease prevention and recovery assistance where persons may safely consume pre-obtained substances.

The bill (2021-H 5245A) would authorize facilities where people may safely consume those substances under the supervision of health care professionals. It would require the approval of the city or town council of any municipality where the center would operate.

“The opioid epidemic has become a tremendous public health crisis, with overdoses of prescription and non-prescription opioids claiming a record number of lives,” said Representative Edwards. “Not only do harm reduction centers severely mitigate the chance of overdose, they are a gateway to treatment and rehabilitation of people with substance abuse disorder. These locations will be under the supervision of trained medical staff who can direct addicts toward substance use disorder treatment. It’s a way to tackle this epidemic while saving lives in the process.”

While 10 countries sanction the operation of harm reduction centers, this legislation would make Rhode Island the first in the United States to authorize such a pilot program.

The bill would also create an advisory committee to make recommendations to the Department of Health on ways to maximize the potential public health and safety benefits of harm reduction centers, as well as the proper disposal of hypodermic needles and syringes, the recovery of people utilizing the centers, and ways to adhere to federal, state and local laws impacting the creation and operation of the centers.

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, according the American Medical Association.

“The opioid crisis has greatly worsened during the pandemic,” said Representative Edwards. “In fact, we’re at the point where we have one death every day from overdoses. It has touched every family in the state. This bill will save the lives of hundreds of Rhode Islanders.”

Representative Edwards has long been in the vanguard of legislation addressing the opioid crisis, and was selected as a 2019 Opioid Policy Fellow for the National Conference of State Legislatures. That same year, he sponsored a state law to improve hospital discharge planning to better help patients with drug and mental health emergencies with recovery.

Last week, the General Assembly enacted a law (2021-H 5485) he introduced to exclude the possession of buprenorphine from those controlled substances that can result in criminal penalties. Buprenorphine is a prescription drug used to treat opioid use disorder.

The House also amended similar legislation (2021-S 0016B) from the Senate sponsored by Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence). Both bills now move to the Senate for consideration.



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