Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee has signed a bill into law authorizing a two-year pilot program to prevent drug overdoses. The law aims to accomplish this goal through the establishment of “harm reduction centers. At the centers, people can consume pre-obtained substances under the supervision of trained staff.
“Today’s victory in Rhode Island gives us hope that there are policymakers that are willing to actually lead and do what needs to be done to save lives in the face of one of the worst public health crises of our time,” said Lindsay LaSalle of the Drug Policy Alliance. “With at least 92,000 of our friends and family members lost to overdose in 2020 alone, we simply cannot wait any longer.
“We have to use every public health resource at our disposal – especially the ones we know work,” LaSalle said. “And we have to do it now. There are mountains of evidence, from years of experience in other countries, to show these centers save lives,” LaSalle said. “They increase the likelihood of a person entering treatment, and provide people access to other vitally important health resources.”
Haley McKee, co-chair of the Substance Use Policy Education & Recovery PAC, led the effort in Rhode Island. “We hope this will set a precedent for other states to follow suit, Rhode Island being the leader,” McKee said.
The DPA provided legislative drafting and technical assistance on the bill. It also funded Protect Families First, one of the primary advocates leading the legislative efforts in the state.
Background on Harm Reduction Centers
Harm Reduction Centers, also called supervised consumption services, supervised injection facilities or overdose prevention services, provide a hygienic and safe space for people who use drugs to consume pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of trained staff.
Supervised consumption facilities reduce health and public order issues by targeting high-risk, socially marginalized drug users. These are people who would otherwise inject in public spaces, including on the street or in public restrooms. These services complement – as in they don’t replace – existing prevention, harm reduction, and treatment interventions.
Facility staff members do not directly assist in consumption or handle any drugs brought in by clients. They are, however, present to provide sterile equipment and supplies, and answer questions on safe consumption practices. They can also administer first aid if needed, and monitor for overdose.
Staff also offer general medical advice and referrals to drug treatment, medical treatment, and other social support programs.
There are around 120 such programs operating worldwide. Rhode Island, though, is first in the United States with a law implementing harm reduction centers allowing supervised drug consumption.
Hundreds of evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies have proven supervised consumption facilities reduce overdose deaths, and do not encourage additional drug use. Studies also show the centers provide an entry to treatment and even abstinence and reduce risky injecting.
They help reduce transmission of infectious diseases, including HIV, hepatitis C, and hepatitis B. The centers also improve public order by reducing discarded syringes and public injecting, reduce crime, and are cost-effective.
About the Drug Policy Alliance
We should base the regulation of drugs in science, compassion, health and human rights. We should not punish people for what they put into their own bodies. This will be a society in which the fears, prejudices and punitive prohibitions of today are no more.
The DPA’s mission is to advance policies and attitudes that reduce the harms of both drug use and drug prohibition. It also works to promote the autonomy of individuals over their minds and bodies. Learn more at drugpolicy.org.