By Sessi Kuwabara Blanchard - Filter,

The prospect of safe consumption sites (SCS) for mitigating the United States’ historic overdose death toll has long been delayed by the federal obstruction of a Philadelphia-based organization’s bid to open the first sanctioned site. Now, hope may be found a few states over: Rhode Island, where residents are witnessing an exacerbated fatal overdose crisis amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A bill to authorize the creation of SCS, or what the lawmakers are calling “Harm Reduction Centers,” has returned to the state’s General Assembly after first being introduced in 2019. This time, “there’s really been strong support,” Haley McKee, co-chair of the Substance Use Policy, Education, & Recovery PAC and a lobbyist in support of the newly reintroduced H 5245 and S 0016, told Filter. “I’ve seen a lot more involvement of people with lived or professional expertise.”

On February 23, the state Senate passed S 0016, which would establish an advisory committee to make recommendations to the state health department’s director on regulating SCS. However, it’s unclear when the House Committee on Health and Human Services—which is currently reviewing the chamber’s version, H 5245—will vote on it, much less when it will move to a floor vote.

If the House passes H 5245, and the legislation is signed by Governor Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island could be first state to legalize SCS. Lawmakers are defining the “Harm Reduction Centers” as “community based resource[s] for health screening, disease prevention and recovery assistance where persons may safely consume pre-obtained controlled substances.”

Unlike the House version, the Senate bill stipulates a liability protection explicitly shielding from arrest and prosecution at least “property owners, managers, employees, volunteers, clients or participants, and state, city, or town government employees acting in the course and scope of employment.”