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Rhode Island set to become first state to legalize injection sites

Health Check 10 visited a safe injection site in Montreal in December 2019. (WJAR)
Health Check 10 visited a safe injection site in Montreal in December 2019. (WJAR)
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Rhode Island could soon become the first state to legalize a controversial way to stop overdose deaths: so-called safe injection sites.

A bill passed in both the House and Senate on Thursday evening, and now needs the signature of Gov. Dan McKee to become law.

"It's the right time to try to save lives," said Sen. Josh Miller, D-Providence, Cranston, who sponsored the legislation in the Senate.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the overdose epidemic in Rhode Island worsened after several years of improvement.

"It got immeasurably worse during the pandemic," Miller said.

The proposed locations, called "Hard Reduction Centers" in the legislation are medically monitored locations where people can safely use illegal drugs -- typically by injecting opiates -- without facing criminal charges. Anyone who visits would also be able to get treatment for addiction to any drugs, Miller said.

NBC 10 News visited one of the sites already up and running in Montreal back in 2019. So, could the same idea work in Rhode Island?

"I think it can work anywhere, frankly," said Michelle Harter at the Anchor Recovery Community Center in Providence. "Listen, anything that saves lives, I'm going to encourage."

Harter said getting people into drug treatment is the end goal. But that can't happen if users die from an overdose before they can get help, something that’s become increasingly common since Fentanyl and similar drugs infiltrated the supply.

"Our drug supply here in Rhode Island, and probably nationally, is poisoned. That's really what it is," Harter said.

There are no details just yet on where Rhode Island's proposed sites might be located. The bill asks the Department of Health and the attorney general to work together on a framework for a two-year pilot program.

Opiate drugs area still illegal under federal law, and providers who want to open a center would need a community's approval.

Miller said that's been a tough sell in Canada, but gradually become more accepted.

"It’s it's shown to actually decrease crime, instead of increase crime. It's shown that there are no fatalities in any of these facilities. They're been shown to be good community partners," Miller said.

NBC 10 reached out to McKee's office to ask whether he plans to sign the bill into law if it passes. A spokesperson said only that McKee will review the measure once it reaches his desk.

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