More than two years ago, Rhode Island became the first state in the nation to authorize overdose prevention centers, facilities where people would be allowed to use illicit drugs under professional supervision. On Thursday, the Providence City Council approved the establishment of what will be the state’s first so-called safe injection site.
Minnesota is the only other state to approve these sites, also known as supervised injection centers and harm reduction centers, but no facility has yet opened there. While several states and cities across the country have taken steps toward approving these centers, the concept has faced resistance even in more liberal-leaning states, where officials have wrestled with the legal and moral implications. The only two sites operating openly in the country are in New York City, where Bill de Blasio, who was then mayor, announced the opening of the first center in 2021.
The centers employ medical and social workers who guard against overdoses by supplying oxygen and naloxone, the overdose-reversing drug, as well as by distributing clean needles, hygiene products and tests for viruses.
Supporters say these centers prevent deaths and connect people with resources. Brandon Marshall, a professor and the chair of the Department of Epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health, said studies from other countries “show that overdose prevention centers save lives, increase access to treatment, and reduce public drug use and crime in the communities in which they’re located.”
Opponents of the centers, including law enforcement groups, say that the sites encourage a culture of permissiveness around illegal drugs, fail to require users to seek treatment and bring drug use into neighborhoods that are already struggling with high overdose rates.
Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, said that while supervised drug consumption sites “reduce risks while people use drugs inside them,” they reach only a few people and “don’t alter the severity or character of a neighborhood’s drug problem.”