House OKs Edwards bill renewing state’s commitment to harm reduction pilot program to combat overdose deaths
STATE HOUSE — The House of Representatives yesterday passed legislation introduced by Majority Floor Manager John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton) that would extend a two-year pilot program to prevent drug overdoses through the establishment of harm reduction centers, which are a community-based resource for health screening, disease prevention and recovery assistance where persons may safely consume pre-obtained substances.
In addition to adding another two years to the program, the bill (2023-H 5044) would also permit the smoking of pre-obtained substances within a harm reduction center. It would still require the approval of the city or town council of any municipality where the center would operate.
With passage of the original law in 2021, Rhode Island became the first state in the union to sanction the operation of harm reduction centers by authorizing a pilot program. Several nations have allowed supervised injection sites for years.
“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,” said Representative Edwards. “This program, which has seen so much success over the globe, is just getting started in Rhode Island. 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.”
Project Weber/RENEW is partnering with CODAC Behavioral Healthcare to open a clinic on Huntington Avenue in Providence where people can use drugs under the supervision of a trained and experienced staff who will guide users toward recovery and support services.
Studies of supervised injection facilities in other countries have demonstrated that they reduce overdose deaths and transmission rates for infectious disease, and increase the number of individuals who seek addiction treatment, without increasing drug trafficking or crime in the areas where they are located, according the American Medical Association.
“Since we enacted this law, the opioid crisis has only gotten worse,” said Representative Edwards. “We went from 384 overdose fatalities that year to 435 the following year, according to the state medical examiner. What we’ve been doing isn’t working; the crisis has touched every family in the state. This program will save the lives of hundreds of Rhode Islanders.”
Representative Edwards has long been in the vanguard of legislation addressing the opioid crisis, and was selected as a 2019 Opioid Policy Fellow for the National Conference of State Legislatures. That same year, he sponsored a state law to improve hospital discharge planning to better help patients with drug and mental health emergencies with recovery.
In 2021, the General Assembly enacted a law he introduced to exclude the possession of buprenorphine from those controlled substances that can result in criminal penalties. Buprenorphine is a prescription drug used to treat opioid use disorder.
The bill now moves to the Senate, where similar legislation (2023-S 0026) has been introduced by Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.