Rhode Island Governor Signs Safe Consumption Site Bill

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Last week, on July 7, Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee, D, signed over 20 bills into law, including H5245. This is a two year pilot program for safe consumption sites for currently illicit drugs. This makes Rhode Island the first state to offer safe consumption sites for its citizens in a medically supervised environment.

Each individual municipality still needs to authorize facilities to operate in their jurisdictions during this two year pilot program. Should this pilot be deemed successful, there’s a chance the bill could be made permanent. It’s a way Rhode Island is offering safety and protection to its citizens while helping combat the opioid epidemic.

Lawmaker Response

“The opioid epidemic has become a tremendous public health crisis, with overdoses of prescription and non-prescription opioids claiming a record number of lives,” Representative John Edwards, D, said. He sponsored the House bill Governor McKee signed. “Not only do harm reduction centers 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,” he continued. “It’s a way to tackle this epidemic while saving lives in the process.”

While the House bill, H5245, was sent to Governor McKee, the Senate also produced a similar bill. Senator Joshua Miller sponsored the similar Senate bill. He stated, “if we are truly going to rein in the drug overdose epidemic, we must recognize drug addiction as the health problem it is, rather than as merely a crime. People who are addicted need help and protection from the most dangerous possibilities of addiction.”

Lawmakers agree. Rhode Island is now setting the precedent for future policies for safe consumption areas. Currently in California, the Assembly has the Senate-approved bill, SB 57, to also potentially establish safe consumption sites. 

Activist Response

Lindsay LaSalle is the managing director of policy for the Drug Policy Alliance. She spoke out in a press release about the passage of H5245.

“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… 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.”

Future

With Rhode Island now leading the charge, it opens up opportunities for other states to also pass safe consumption sites. Only time will tell how things will change moving forward.

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