‘Medical, sterile and clean’: Nation’s first harm reduction center will likely open in Providence


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island will soon be home to the nation’s first-ever safe injection site for those struggling with addiction.

Gov. Dan McKee signed off on legislation allowing for a two-year pilot program earlier this year, making Rhode Island the first state in the nation to authorize the so-called harm reduction centers.

Harm reduction centers are designed to provide a safe space for people struggling with addiction to inject illegal drugs under the supervision of medical professionals.

The R.I. Department of Health has already drafted regulations for these centers, which are based upon those from similar sites in other countries.

While critics believe the facilities encourage drug use, RICARES Community Engagement Coordinator Selene Means said they can be the difference between life and death for those struggling with addiction.

“Addiction is not a choice, and when you are in the biological stresses of addiction, you need to use but you don’t want to die,” Means explained.

RICARES opened a mock exhibition in Providence earlier this year to educate the public on how a safe injection site would operate.

Means, who designed the exhibition, said the centers will function as medical facilities that also provide addiction recovery resources.

“It’s supposed to be very medical, sterile and clean,” Means said.

Means said the vast majority of the people who have visited the exhibition support the idea.

“Most people are understanding of what harm reduction is,” Means added. “People are very supportive, it’s just bureaucracy … the slowness of just one step at a time, but it’s moving forward.”

Right now, RICARES needs to figure out funding and a location for the state’s first harm reduction center. Means said they plan to open the first one in Providence since it is considered a “hot spot” for drug overdoses.

Means expects the first center to open by 2023, though a specific date hasn’t been set.

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