PROVIDENCE, R.I (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee ceremoniously signed multiple bills related to the ongoing opioid epidemic Friday morning.

One of those bills gives the green light for Rhode Island to possibly become the first state in the country to open a “harm reduction center” which is a place that people can go to take drugs, no questions asked.

The idea is that if they’re around medical professionals, they won’t be at risk of overdosing alone, will have a clean needle and safe disposal place, and be provided resources for behavioral health and addiction services.

Though it’s a disputed topic, it’s one Rhode Island House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi calls necessary to save Rhode Islanders.

“It would allow people to feel safe, get treatment, get educated, get tested, get protection,” Shekarchi said.

That bill was officially signed by McKee back in July, but Friday’s signing will bring more attention to it.

“Rhode Island is the first state in the nation to pilot a program for harm reduction centers to help combat the opioid crisis,” McKee said.

McKee also signed three other bills:

  • A bill to decriminalize buprenorphine, which is a narcotic that can treat opioid dependence, like methadone
  • A bill that would add penalties for unsafe prescription drug practices
  • A bill that would expand insurance coverage for telemedicine appointments

A common thread in three of those bills is finding safe ways to reach people suffering from opioid addictions.

R.I. Department of Health data shows 384 people died from overdoses in the state in 2020, by far the most on record.

The United States currently doesn’t have any harm reduction centers, and Rhode Island is the first state for this pilot program to be authorized. Ten other countries have found success with them, however.