PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI/AP) — Rhode Island may become the first state to authorize so-called harm reduction centers where people dealing with addiction can take heroin and other illegal drugs under the supervision of medical professionals.

Legislation approved by the state Senate Thursday creates a two-year pilot program to open the centers.

“The opioid epidemic has become a tremendous public health crisis, with overdoses of prescription and non-prescription opioids claiming a record number of lives,” Rep. John Edwards said. “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.”

The bill now heads to Gov. Dan McKee as House lawmakers approved the measure earlier this week.

If approved, health officials say Rhode Island would be among the first states in the country to authorize the site.

“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,” Sen. Josh Miller, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services said. “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.”

“Especially as overdose deaths have climbed during the pandemic and fentanyl-laced drugs continue to pose a lethal threat to unwitting users, we could prevent needless death and turn lives around with a program like this,” he continued.

Canada and other countries have long operated safe injection sites, but none exist in the U.S.