Senate approves harm reduction center pilot extension


STATE HOUSE – The Senate today passed legislation introduced by Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller to extend the state’s two-year pilot program to prevent drug overdoses through the establishment of harm reduction centers to help prevent drug overdose deaths.

The bill (2023-S 0026) extends the sunset date on a pilot program approved by the General Assembly in 2021 to create supervised facilities for drug users, staffed by health care professionals who could help in cases of overdose and make treatment referrals. The first such site, to be operated by Project Weber/RENEW and CODAC Behavioral in Providence, is not yet open. Under the law that authorized it, the pilot is to expire March 1, 2024. This bill extends it to March 1, 2026.

“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 Chairman Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence).

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, which last week approved companion legislation (2023-H 5044) sponsored by Majority Floor Manager John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton).

The harm reduction centers allowed under the bill will be staffed by health care professionals who will provide supervision as people use pre-obtained substances. In addition to being able to identify and treat overdoses immediately, they will offer health screenings and provide resources for testing drugs for fentanyl and preventing the spread of disease. Additionally, they will offer visitors a gateway to recovery and support services.

The legislation also amends the act slightly to ensure that it permits the smoking of pre-obtained substances within the harm reduction center.

No center can be opened without the approval of the city or the town council in the municipality where it would be located.

With passage of the original law in 2021, Rhode Island became the first state in the nation to sanction the operation of harm reduction centers. There are about 120 such facilities operating in 10 other countries worldwide.

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.

“Rhode Island will be a leader in our country with this pilot, but we already know from the experiences of harm reduction centers in other parts of the world that they reduce overdose deaths, they make communities safer and they put treatment at the fingertips of those who need it the second they are ready for it,” said Chairman Miller. “This is a time-tested model that works, and it will save lives here in Rhode Island.”



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