Approval of Rhode Island overdose prevention center sparks conversation online

Recently, the Providence City Council approved Rhode Island’s first “safe injection site” in February 2024, sparking conversation about opioids, overdoses, and harm reduction online. Rhode Island became the first state in the U.S. to authorize overdose prevention centers more than two years ago, and the newly approved Providence City location would be the third overdose prevention center to operate openly in the country (the two other sites are in New York City). Overdose prevention centers allow people to use illicit drugs under the supervision of medical and social workers. The facilities help protect people from overdoses by providing oxygen and naloxone; people who use drugs can also access sterile needles, disease testing, and other services related to food, hygiene, and housing. Conversations on social media in response to Rhode Island’s announcement indicate confusion about the differences between overdose prevention centers and other facilities that provide harm reduction services, like syringe services programs (SSPs), where supervised use is not allowed. 

Recommendation: Ensuring that messaging and informational materials are clear about the differences in harm reduction services is recommended. False narratives online also state that overdose prevention centers encourage drug use and crime. Debunking messaging may emphasize that long-term studies in other countries show that overdose prevention centers reduce overdoses, increase access to treatment, and reduce public drug use in the communities where they are located. Public health professionals should also be aware that trending narratives often use stigmatized language about people who use drugs, despite data from the New York City Department of Health showing that overdose prevention centers reduce drug use, lead to safer drug use practices, and increase participation in drug treatment services.