On the grounds that addicts need safe spaces, Rhode Island is nearing the start of a pilot plan to give drug users a legal place to use illegal drugs.
The two-year pilot is a first for any state, the Wall Street Journal reported. Rhode Island hopes to finish crating the rules for the sites in January and determine where the sites will be located in March.
Democratic Gov. Daniel McKee approved legislation creating the centers in July, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Some have questioned the project.
“We set rules, regulations, laws and parameters for our people to conduct themselves, to comport themselves,” said Democratic state legislator Arthur Corvese, according to The Public’s Radio.
“But yet we will say, you want to chase the dragon or shoot up, here’s the place to do it. We’re going to protect you, we’ll have health people there for you and we’re going to pay for it,” he said.
Legislators who supported the project say the time is right.
“The opioid epidemic has become a tremendous public health crisis, with overdoses of prescription and non-prescription opioids claiming a record number of lives,” Democratic Rep. John Edwards said, according to WPRI-TV.
“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. 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.”
Edwards offered his vision of how the sites would operate.
“They would be screened when they go in. They talk to them. If they want, they could have their drugs tested, tested for quantity of fentanyl — it’s in everything. And then they could go to a place in the facility, they can inject their drugs or however they use them, and they’re monitored. They stay there until they can get up and walk out on their own,” he said, according to The Public’s Radio.
Some legislators said using illegal drugs is not really a crime.
“If we are truly going to rein in the drug overdose epidemic, we must recognize drug addiction as the health problem it is, rather than as merely a crime,” said Democratic state Sen. Josh Miller, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services said, WPRI reported.
“People who are addicted need help and protection from the most dangerous possibilities of addiction. Having a place where someone can save them from an overdose and where there are people offering them the resources they need for treatment is a much better alternative to people dying alone in their homes or their cars,” he said.
Democratic state Rep. Anastasia Williams said the centers belong in the suburbs to send a political message.
“When it’s in the urban cores, it’s ‘crackheads and junkies,’” she said, according The Public’s Radio. “But as soon as the white population started dying more frequently, it became an opioid pandemic and solutions started being thought about like this one. But when people of color were in need of these same services, mum’s the word, honey.”
According to the Journal the sites would test users’ drugs for potentially fatal doses of fentanyl.
Massachusetts and California are considering adopting similar plans.
Philadelphia wanted to set aside a safe space for drug users, but lost a legal battle to the Trump administration when it tried to do so.
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