Rhode Island on the verge of legalising safe consumption sites for illicit drugs

6th July 2021

The state legislature of Rhode Island, USA, has approved a bill that would legalise the establishment of safe consumption sites for illicit drugs such as opioids, through a two-year pilot scheme. The bill has now been sent to the state’s Governor for final approval before it is signed into law.

The proposed legislation was approved by the House of Representatives early last week, alongside a Senat companion version. On Thursday (1st July), the Senate, who Marijuana Moment reports had passed an earlier version on the bill in February, approved the final version of the bill.

If the legislation is signed into law by Governor Dan Mckee (Democrat), Rhode Island would become the first state in the country to legalise the consumption facilities. However, individual municipalities within the state would still need to authorise the facilities to operate within their jurisdictions.

In a press release, the sponsor of the House bill, Representative John Edwards (Democrat) stated: “The opioid epidemic has become a tremendous public health crisis, with overdoses of prescription and non-prescription opioids claiming a record number of lives.

“Not only do harm reduction centres severely mitigate the chance of overdose, they are a gateway to treatment and rehabilitation of people with substance abuse disorder.”

“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.”

According to Marijuana Moment, the bill was partly informed by recommendations from an overdose task force which was convened under former state Governor, Gina Raimondo (Democrat). The legislation would also see the creation of an advisory committee which would be required to advise the state Department of Health on how to maximise the benefit of the consumption facilities.

Similar harm reduction bills have advanced in other parts of the country, with Rhode Island’s Senate passing a bill that would create a harm reduction centre pilot scheme in 2019. In Massachusetts, a legislative committee approved a bill that would legalise safe injection sites, however, the bill was not enacted.

A drugs harm reduction bill has also been approved in the California Senate and is now pending in the Assembly. However, a federal court in Philadelphia this year blocked a nonprofit organisation from opening a harm reduction centre – its backers are now pursuing an appeal.

Harm reduction and safe consumption sites for drugs such as illicit and prescription opioids are not a new concept. In fact, these centres became an important part of Portugal’s drug decriminalisation legislation in 2001 as the country became committed to adopting a health-focused stance on drug addiction.

One study, carried out in 2020, found that people “who reported using supervised injection facilities on an at least weekly basis had a reduced risk of dying compared to those who reported less than weekly or no use of this health service.”

The intention of these centres is to provide a safe place for drug users to consume drugs with access to emergency medical staff to prevent overdose fatalities and clean needles to prevent the risk of disease and infection.

Related Stories