First R.I. overdose prevention center slated for 2024 opening

PROVIDENCE – Almost two years after Rhode Island became the first state in the country to legalize overdose prevention centers, plans to establish the first facility of its kind in the Ocean State are in motion.

Overdose prevention centers, also known as safe injection sites or harm reduction centers, allow people to use drugs in a supervised setting, with the goal of having medical help nearby in case of an overdose.

Harm reduction nonprofit Project Weber/RENEW and clinical partner CODAC Inc. will oversee the center and have secured funding from Rhode Island’s opioid settlement funds for its first year of operations. The R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services selected the project for funding.

The center, which has a proposed location on Huntington Avenue, is planned to open in early 2024, and will also have resources available to test drugs for the highly potent substance fentanyl, which can cause an overdose even in trace amounts.

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In a statement, Project Weber/RENEW Executive Director Colleen Daley Ndoye called the planned center “a historic and humane step forward in the fight against the epidemic of overdose deaths.

“With more than 100,000 people dying in this country every year – and hundreds in Rhode Island alone – it is time for us to take action to keep more people from dying,” Ndoye said. “No one can make the decision to ask for support and help, let alone decide to enter treatment or recovery if they are dead. We have many years of experience as a peer-led organization, and we’re ready to make Rhode Island a leader in a new era of harm reduction.”

While officials call the site the first state-regulated harm reduction center to open in the U.S., the facility won’t be the first of its kind: Rhode Island was the first state to legalize safe injection sites when it approved a pilot program for the centers in 2021, but since then, other states have passed similar legislation. New York City has already operated two of these centers since December.

The R.I. Department of Health has yet to receive a completed application for a safe injection site, said RIDOH spokesperson Joseph Wendelken.

But the Project Weber/RENEW plans signify that this will likely change in the near future.

Additionally, the application period, originally slated to close in March 2024, late last month received legislative approval for an extension until March 2026.

The People, Place & Health Collective at Brown University’s School of Public Health will evaluate the center’s outcomes.

“The work of the overdose prevention center is evidence-based, proven to save lives,” CODAC CEO Linda Hurley said in a statement. “It is a critical piece of the continuum of care needed to assist and protect our community members who are suffering from substance use disorders.”

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Voghel@PBN.com.