PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island is poised to become the first state to authorize so-called harm reduction centers where people dealing with addiction can take heroin and other illegal drugs under the supervision of medical professionals.
Legislation cleared the state General Assembly Thursday creating a two-year pilot program for the centers, which are also referred to as safe injection sites or supervised injection sites.
The Senate-approved bill now heads to Democratic Gov. Dan McKee after the state House of Representatives approved the measure earlier this week. The Democrat has said he’ll review the proposal when it reaches his desk.
“Having a place where someone can save them from an overdose and where there are people offering them the resources they need for treatment is a much better alternative to people dying alone in their homes or their cars,” state Sen. Joshua Miller, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement.
Canada is among at least 10 countries that allow the facilities, but none exist in the U.S. Assembly leaders said their bill would make Rhode Island the first state to authorize such a pilot program.
New York, Philadelphia and Somerville, a Boston suburb, are among the American cities that have been trying to open the centers to combat the opioid crisis in recent years. Massachusetts lawmakers are also weighing a bill creating a 10-year pilot program with at least two sites.
James McDonald, the state Department of Health’s medical director, said harm reduction sites have proven effective in preventing fatal overdoses.
They’ve also proven successful in connecting people with substance abuse treatment, recovery support and other health services, added Miller.
The Cranston Democrat has cautioned the measure, if approved, could face legal challenges as the injection centers remain illegal under federal law.
Under Miller’s bill, opening a center would also require city and town approval.