The Project Weber/Renew group, which helps drug users in one of Rhode Island's poorest neighborhoods, is preparing to open the first supervised drug consumption site legalized by a state — one of the most daring experiments in “harm reduction” in the U.S. to date, reports the New York Times. By letting people use drugs on site and under the supervision of social and medical workers, rather than alone, Project Weber hopes to curb overdose deaths and infectious diseases and coax more users into using medication and supplies for safer drug use. Many public health experts see this strategy as a possible template for transforming how the U.S. addresses drug use.
The concept has drawn considerable interest in recent years: New York City allowed two sites to open last year, and some state legislatures have considered following suit. Rhode Island has authorized a two-year trial that Project Weber and a partner treatment organization anticipate leading. Research has shown that supervised consumption sites in Canada, Australia and some European countries have saved lives and led to people getting treatment. Top Biden administration officials have also signaled openness to the idea. In 2019, the Trump administration sued a Philadelphia group that aimed to open a site, but under Biden, the Justice Department is weighing whether to drop the lawsuit. If it decides to do so, that could serve as a tacit endorsement of the strategy.