Providence City Council Paves the Way for the First State- and Locally-Approved Overdose Prevention Center in the U.S., Embracing a Public Health Approach to the Overdose Crisis

Statement Kellen Russoniello February 2, 2024
Media Contact

Laini Madhubuti [email protected]

Providence, R.I. – On Thursday, the Providence City Council unanimously voted to authorize the first state- and locally- approved overdose prevention center in the United States. The Providence City Council resolution allows Project Weber/RENEW, a community-based outreach and harm reduction service provider, and VICTA, an outpatient substance use disorder and mental health treatment provider, to open and operate Rhode Island’s first overdose prevention center. The Providence site is expected to open in summer 2024.

This vote comes over two years after OnPoint NYC opened two overdose prevention centers in New York City, where they have intervened in over 1,200 potential drug overdoses, connected participants to vital resources, and reduced the presence of hazardous waste in nearby neighborhoods.

The vote also comes on the heels of Vermont’s House voting to authorize and fund overdose prevention centers, legislation which now heads to the Vermont Senate. Although barriers to opening and operating overdose prevention centers persist, including concerns that federal officials could attempt to intervene, the progress being made in Vermont, Rhode Island, and elsewhere across the country clearly demonstrates that local governments have a responsibility to act. The unregulated, increasingly potent drug supply and the spread of fentanyl have driven an increase in overdose deaths nationwide, with 109,000 people dying of a fatal overdose in 2022.

In response to the Providence City Council’s vote, Kellen Russoniello, Senior Policy Counsel for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the leading organization seeking to make overdose prevention centers available across the United States, released the following statement:

“More than 100,000 people die of overdose in the United States every year. That’s over 100,000 mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, and loved ones lost to preventable deaths. Our drug policy has failed, with deadly consequences. Inaction is inexcusable. We need drug policy based in health, humanity, and evidence.

“Over 35 years of evidence from around the world has consistently shown that overdose prevention centers save lives, reduce risky behaviors, increase connection to health services, improve public safety, and save money. The United States has lagged behind many other countries in establishing lifesaving overdose prevention centers, but the advancement in Rhode Island signifies the tide is finally turning.

“Drug Policy Alliance commends Rhode Island advocates and policymakers for their support of overdose prevention centers. In a time when we must take bold action to save lives, that is exactly what the Providence City Council did with yesterday’s vote. Other jurisdictions around the country should step up and follow Rhode Island’s lead. We are cheering for Project Weber/RENEW and VICTA and are looking forward to their site opening this summer.”


In 2021, Rhode Island enacted legislation authorizing a pilot program for overdose prevention centers (known in the law as Harm Reduction Centers) to operate with local approval. The Rhode Island Department of Health then issued regulations to implement the program. In 2022, the state Opioid Settlement Advisory Committee allocated over $2 million to support overdose prevention centers. In 2023, the state legislature extended the pilot program to allow more time for sites to open.

In 2021, the first two locally approved overdose prevention centers in the U.S. opened in New York City. Operated by the community-based nonprofit OnPoint, the sites have intervened in over 1,200 overdoses. The Providence overdose prevention center will mark the third locally-approved overdose prevention center in the U.S., and the first with both local and state approval. In 2023, the Minnesota legislature approved over $14 million to fund overdose prevention centers in the state.

One of the main reasons that states and localities cite for not supporting overdose prevention centers is fear of federal intervention. In 2019, under the Trump administration, the Department of Justice brought a lawsuit to stop a nonprofit called Safehouse from opening an overdose prevention center in Philadelphia. The litigation is ongoing, but the Biden administration has still not taken a clear stance on overdose prevention centers. The Department of Justice has not indicated that it will intervene in New York or Rhode Island. The question of whether overdose prevention centers would violate federal law is still unsettled across most of the country.

More Information:

An overview of overdose prevention centers

Providence City Council’s Press Statement

Project Weber/RENEW’s Press Statement



 About the Drug Policy Alliance

The Drug Policy Alliance is the leading organization in the U.S. working to end the drug war, repair its harms, and build a non-punitive, equitable, and regulated drug market. We envision a world that embraces the full humanity of people, regardless of their relationship to drugs. We advocate that the regulation of drugs be grounded in evidence, health, equity, and human rights. In collaboration with other movements and at every policy level, we change laws, advance justice, and save lives. Learn more at

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