Assembly OKs bill renewing state’s commitment to harm reduction pilot program to combat overdose deaths


STATE HOUSE — The General Assembly today passed legislation introduced by House Majority Floor Manager John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton) and Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) that would extend 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 measure now moves to the governor’s office.

In addition to adding another two years to the program, the bill (2023-H 5044, 2023-S 0026) would also permit the smoking of pre-obtained substances within a harm reduction center. It would still require the approval of the city or town council of any municipality where the center would operate.

With passage of the original law in 2021, Rhode Island became the first state in the union to sanction the operation of harm reduction centers by authorizing a pilot program. Several nations have allowed supervised injection sites for years.

“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,” said Representative Edwards. “This program, which has seen so much success over the globe, is just getting started in Rhode Island. 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.”

Project Weber/RENEW is partnering with CODAC Behavioral Healthcare to open a clinic in Providence where people can use drugs under the supervision of a trained and experienced staff who will guide users toward recovery and support services. 

“Rhode Island is grappling with a serious and ever-growing opioids epidemic, one that claimed a record 435 of our friends, family members and neighbors in 2021. I’m proud of this legislation not only because of the way it will save lives directly by preventing overdoses and connecting suffering people to the help they need, but because it represents an important shift in recognizing that addiction is a disease rather than a crime. Shame and fear of criminal prosecution are contributing factors to overdose deaths, resulting in people hiding in back alleys to use, being afraid to seek help and dying alone. This pilot changes that equation. It will save the lives of those who use it, and I believe it’s a hopeful turn in our efforts to compassionately and effectively treat addiction in our state,” said Senator Miller, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.

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.