Rhode Island: The First State to Allow Harm Reduction Centers for Safe Drug Consumption

To combat drug overdoses, the Rhode Island governor signed a bill allowing people to consume pre-obtained drugs under safe, professional supervision of trained staff.

Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee recently signed a bill that authorizes a 2-year pilot program establishing harm reduction centers to prevent drug overdoses through.1 In these centers, people can consume pre-obtained substances under the supervision of trained staff.

There are approximately 120 similar programs operating worldwide, but Rhode Island is the first US state to pass a law authorizing the implementation of harm reduction centers for supervised drug consumption.

In response to the news, Managing Director of Policy for the Drug Policy Alliance, Lindsey LaSalle, said: “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. 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. And we have to do it now. There are mountains of evidence, from years and years of experience in other countries, to show that these centers save lives, increase the likelihood of a person entering treatment, and provide people access to other vitally important health resources.”2

Harm reduction centers provide a hygienic and safe space for people who use drugs. Center staff members do not directly assist in the consumption of any drugs brought in by clients. Instead, staff will: provide sterile equipment and supplies, answer questions on safe consumption practices, administer first aid if needed, monitor for overdose, offer general medical advice, and offer referrals to drug treatment, medical treatment, and other social support programs.

Harm reduction centers also reduce health and public order issues by targeting high-risk, socially marginalized drug users who would otherwise inject in public spaces. These services are not intended to replace existing prevention, harm reduction, and treatment interventions, but instead complement them.

“Our general assembly and Governor's office has been very supportive of helping people with substance use disorders, people who use drugs, and people in recovery and really actively engaging with those populations to move this law along. We hope this will set a precedent for other states to follow suit, with Rhode Island being the leader,” said Haley McKee, co-chair of the Substance Use Policy Education & Recovery PAC.

References

1. State of Rhode Island General Assembly. Harm reduction center pilot program to combat overdose deaths becomes law. News release. July 7, 2021. Accessed July 8, 2021. http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/pressrelease/_layouts/RIL.PressRelease.ListStructure/Forms/DisplayForm.aspx?List=c8baae31-3c10-431c-8dcd-9dbbe21ce3e9&ID=371925

2. Drug Policy Alliance. Drug Policy Alliance statement on Rhode Island becoming first in the nation to authorize harm reduction centers to prevent overdose deaths. News release. July 7, 2021. Accessed July 8, 2021. https://drugpolicy.org/press-release/2021/07/drug-policy-alliance-statement-rhode-island-becoming-first-nation-authorize