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Rhode Island 1st State to Open Safe Use Sites for Drugs

Rhode Island safe use
Written by Sarah Friedman
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You read it right! No, it’s not a real legalization, or even decriminalization. But for two years, Rhode Island is operating a pilot program with safe use sites that allows legal drug use. What will come after is hard to say, but for now, here are some details of this kind of cool – and necessary – new legislative move.

The new Rhode Island policy for safe use sites is meant to target extreme drug users. Luckily, cannabis doesn’t cause overdose deaths, so while smokers can take advantage of the sites, they don’t have the same concerns as opioid users. In fact, cannabis is often eyed as a tool for harm reduction from major drugs. But its also just a great plant that provides tons of useful compounds, not just standard THC. These days, there are tons of options available, so remember to subscribe to The THC Weekly Newsletter all the latest news and industry stories, as well as exclusive deals on flowers, vapes, edibles, and other products. Also save big on Delta 8Delta 9 THCDelta-10 THCTHCOTHCVTHCP & HHC products by checking out our “Best-of” lists!


Rhode Island to open safe use sites for legal drug use

Rhode Island isn’t a legalized state, though its certainly known to be a more liberal one. While 18 states have legal recreational cannabis (which should be 19), Rhode Island isn’t immediately going in that direction. But it is doing something very forward thinking and cool. Especially considering that there are major drug issues in America, which are causing massive death rates. Though these issues don’t involve cannabis, what Rhode Island is doing will help out cannabis users as well.

On Wednesday, July 7th, 2021, Rhode Island’s governor, Dan McKee signed into law a bill designed to combat the ongoing and growing opioid epidemic. This issue can be seen in Rhode Island, as well as the rest of the US, and around the world as well in smaller amounts. The new Rhode Island bill is a two-year pilot program aimed at preventing overdosing by providing safe injection/safe use sites. Rhode Island recorded 384 overdose deaths in 2020, and 322 through November of 2021. These sites will focus mainly on helping those who inject heroin and methamphetamine.

Rhode Island is the first US state to adopt a policy that allows legal drug use in designated areas as part of this two-year pilot program. This policy was not instituted with the thought of cannabis in mind, even if it proves useful to cannabis smokers. What the pilot program is most intended for, is providing a way for the hardest of drug users, using the most dangerous of drugs, to have a safe place to get high around professionals who can help if there is a problem.

safe use sites

What will the Rhode Island safe use sites entail?

These safe use sites, also known as “harm reduction centers,” and “safe injection sites”, will provide clean needles, drug testing, and other services like recovery assistance. Each site is to be staffed by medical/qualified personnel, who are trained in CPR, overdose protocols, and the administration of drugs like naloxone, an opioid antagonist. Each site will have all the necessary supplies to carry out these functions. Sites will operate under the control of a medical director to oversee clinical practices, and a harm reduction center director who oversees the administrative management of the location.

Apart from all this, the sites will function partly as social services, providing referrals for housing, employment, and legal assistance, if necessary, while also offering basic health services. Each center is required to report deaths and overdoses to the medical director as well as to the state Department of Health, with a mandate to report all overdoses and other causes of death within 24 hours. Non-fatal overdoses must be reported within 48 hours of the time they occurred.

All sites in Rhode Island must get licensing from the state, and an approval from the city or town in which the site will operate. Mobile units will exist as well, and must provide very specific schedules for where they will be including complete addresses and operation times. Licenses can be denied to operators, suspended if there are issues, or completely revoked if regulators see fit.

One of the interesting things to be offered at these sites, is drug testing. But not the kind of drug testing most are used to. This isn’t drug testing to see if someone used something, but a way to actually test the drugs about to be taken, particularly for the presence of fentanyl. Fentanyl is an extremely strong opioid drug which people take on purpose, but which is also often a reason for accidental overdose due to it being used as an adulterant in other drugs.

Is this new?

This is new for the US, yes, since no other programs like this currently exist. Detractors like Arthur Corvese, a Democratic Rhode Island State Representative, called the idea a ‘moral oxymoron’ since legal use is now going to be permitted in an otherwise illegal state. The idea of encouraging such legal use of illegal drugs has been criticized by opponents, who believe this will somehow increase crime in surrounding areas…although I haven’t seen an explanation of how this is thought to be the case.

In reality, outside of America, this isn’t new at all. And not only that, while detractors shoot their mouths off to a US audience which is probably unaware of comparable programs in other countries, those comparable programs have already been cited for their positive influence on drug using culture. Something that Americans should really be informed on, and considering in this.

drug overdose

Canada, Australia, and different parts of Europe, for example, have cumulatively opened around 100 comparable safe-use sites. The Netherlands has the largest number, with just under 40 locations. Its first was opened in 1996, and the country was able to reduce overdose deaths by ensuring users were getting pure heroin, rather than a heroin/fentanyl mix. Canada’s first site opened in 2003, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver where there are many IV drug users.

Canada, between 2017-2019 alone had around two million visits to safe use sites. The country had 39 sites open as of last year, with an expected daily visitor amount of 3,000 people. The busiest sites in Canada can have up to 500 visits a day, according to Health-Infobase.  

Will this happen elsewhere in America?

Opioid overdoses are a massive issue in the US, and this is not debatable, even if specific numbers are. For example, in 2019 hhs.gov, said there were close to 71,000 overdose deaths, whereas drugabuse.gov, put the number at 50,000. Either way, it’s a ridiculous number of avoidable deaths. hhs.gov provided more statistics, saying there were 14,480 heroin overdoses that year, over 10 million people misusing pain killers, and 48,000 synthetic opioid deaths. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, total opioid overdose deaths went up to 93,000 in 2020.

It gets grosser. In 2017, over 191 million opioid prescriptions were written out in the US, meaning that 58.7 prescriptions were written for every 100 people. 45% of these were given by primary care physicians who are not supposed to write such prescriptions at all. The economic burden of this epidemic in terms of health care, emergency care services, addiction programs, lost productivity, and dealing with the criminal justice system, costs about $78.5 billion every year. Who do you think pays for that? That’s right, the same taxpayers who were put on these pharmaceutically pushed medications that the government allows through regulation, now have to pay for the damage they’re doing.

So, yes, these sites will likely be popping up all over the place in the future. In fact, this was not the first try. Back in 2020, Philadelphia went ahead with plans to open Safehouse, a safe injection site. This was ruled against in January, 2021, by the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, stymieing the effort.

However, seven months later, the nonprofit behind the venture was already pushing back legally, announcing in the summer of 2021 that it would be filing a petition to take the case to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court refused the case (likely something it will be sticking its foot in its mouth for later), in October, 2021.

safe use

This hasn’t deterred proponents, who are planning on relaunching the case at the district court level, with new arguments. Given Rhode Island passing this legislation, and increasing opioid deaths, I expect this time it will go through. While that’s just my opinion for now, that California and Massachusetts are also currently considering plans to implement a similar structure, indicates that this is actually a new trend being established in the fight against opioid addiction.

Conclusion

The whole thing is horrifying if you take a step back. The government fully approved and allowed these medications to be sold, and then didn’t respond to its people dying. In fact, it still hasn’t stopped the ability to write prescriptions for these medications. In fact, prescriptions haven’t gone down at all.

So not only did the government support – and is continuing to support – its people being killed by big pharma, but it’s working to stymie any progress in the fight against it, least of all anything related to helping citizens be safer with their pharmaceutically-induced drug issues. So here’s to Rhode Island, for being the first state to start the process of recovery through safe use sites, and for giving access to safe ways to use drugs for those who need it. No thanks to the federal government at all.

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DisclaimerHi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advice, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I am a US born writer, travelling the world and doing the digital nomad thing.

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