General Assembly OKs bill to authorize harm reduction center pilot program to combat overdose deaths


STATE HOUSE — The General Assembly today passed legislation introduced by Majority Floor Manager John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth) and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) 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, 2021-S 0016B) 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.

“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,” said Senator Miller, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. “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.”

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 measure now moves to the governor’s office.



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