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Governor signs law creating drug injection site program

July 8, 2021 GMT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island’s governor has signed into law a bill authorizing the opening of so-called harm reduction centers where people dealing with addiction can take heroin and other illegal drugs under the supervision of medical professionals.

The Wednesday signing by Democratic Gov. Daniel McKee makes Rhode Island the first to enact such a statewide measure to combat the opioid epidemic.

The American Medical Association on Thursday applauded the move, which comes after there were 384 accidental overdose deaths in Rhode Island last year.

“By enacting the nation’s first law in support of a pilot harm reduction center, Rhode Island is taking an important step to save lives from drug-related overdose and death,” said Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, a Michigan doctor who chairs the organization’s opioid task force.

Canada and other countries have long operated harm reduction sites, which are also referred to as safe injection sites or supervised injection sites, but none exist in the U.S. as they remain illegal under federal law.

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New York, Philadelphia and the Boston suburb of Somerville are among the American cities that have been trying to open the centers in recent years. Massachusetts lawmakers are also weighing a bill creating a 10-year pilot program with at least two sites.

Rhode Island’s law, which takes effect March 1, creates a two-year pilot program allowing for the opening of the centers with local approval.

Supporters say harm reduction sites have proven effective in preventing fatal overdoses and connecting people with substance abuse treatment, recovery support and other health services.