PROVIDENCE — Gov. Daniel McKee on Wednesday signed into law a proposal to help combat the opioid overdose crisis by creating safe injection sites for people to use illegal drugs under the oversight.
The legislation, which makes Rhode Island the first to enact a statewide measure, establishes a two-year pilot program to prevent drug overdoses through the establishment of so-called “harm reduction centers,” or safe injection sites. The centers are defined as resources that provide health screening, disease prevention and recovery assistance where people may safely consume pre-obtained controlled substances.
More: Drug bills signal sea change in RI's approach to opioid crisis
“That’s amazing. … I’m a little taken aback,” Sen. Joshua Miller said upon learning from The Journal that McKee had signed the measure into law. Miller, D-Providence, has championed the harm-reduction legislation for several years.
Advocates have hailed the proposal as a much-needed tool as the state experienced a record 384 accidental overdose deaths in 2020 and is on track to possibly another record-breaking year.
The goal is to provide clean needles to curtail the spread of infectious diseases; test drugs; and provide a bridge to medical and substance abuse treatment.
The law signed by McKee requires the approval of a center by the city or town council in which it is proposed. The director of the Department of Health will draft regulations governing the centers by March 1 with the advice of an advisory committee.
The funding would all come from foundations and private donors as the legislation does not earmark any public or taxpayer dollars, according to advocate Annajane Yolken. Because Rhode Island is a leader in this topic, the state is well-positioned to receive private funding for a pilot program, she said.
Miller said the next focus will be working with the health officials, the advisory committee, and Attorney General Peter F. Neronha on the regulations.
The federal stance on the centers remains unclear. Federal prosecutors successfully blocked a so-called safehouse from being opened in Philadelphia by arguing that it would violate the U.S. Controlled Substances Act’s prohibition on “crackhouses.” A federal appeals court panel agreed, despite the American Medical Association's brief in support.
President Biden’s administration released its one-year drug policy earlier this year that focuses on racial equity and expanding access to prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery services while reducing the supply of illicit substances.
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