DENVER - After weeks of media attention and ramped up enforcement by the City of Denver, those who use the Cherry Creek trail for its intended purpose are seeing a difference in the amount of heroin use there.
“It got really bad in the spring. And they were basically roving gangs. It was a thing where you’d wonder, should you speed up a little bit,” said Mark Skrotzki, a cyclist on the trail. “July, August, there’s many, many fewer people hanging out, cruising around.”
Denver Police have made 128 felony drug arrests on the trail this year. Parks and Recreation has collected 3,500 spent needles along the creek. A few weeks ago the department spray painted 'no loitering' signs at Speer and Colfax (the trail’s heroin epicenter) and underneath several bridges. The end result’s becoming visible.
“Our tourists bring a lot of money and an increase to our economy in town. It’s a better place for tourists to go,” noted Kristi Petersen, who rides the trail regularly.
PREVIOUS STORY: Heroin use seen in broad daylight on Cherry Creek Trail
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But that doesn’t mean Denver’s heroin problem has been solved.
“Law enforcement knows they can’t arrest their way out of this epidemic. Right now, what this has done is displace folks, driven them more underground and made the epidemic truly dangerous,” said Lisa Raville, executive director of The Harm Reduction Action Center (HRAC).
HRAC provides clean syringes and naloxone to drug users. Naloxone reversed the effects of opioids during an overdose. Raville says they’ve trained 1,000 drug users how to use naloxone since 2012 and it’s saved 421 lives. The organization catalogs where the naloxone was used in the city on an interactive map. The most concentrated area of overdoses is at Speer Boulevard and Colfax Avenue.
“We’ve already tried stigma and shame and all that’s done is drive use underground for people to get preventable chronic diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis C and die of overdose,” said Raville of how the city’s pushing drug users out of certain public areas.
She’d like to see the community focus on solving addiction, like talking about alternatives to public injection. California and Maryland for instance have introduced legislation to create supervised injection facilities, modeled after those used in other countries. So far, none have been approved for use in the US.
The city addressed a major concern by the public; open drug use, an open air heroin market and used needles on the ground where people run. The police department works with service providers to try and connect drug users to treatment centers. But where the addicted go next remains to be seen.
“The drugs sell themselves and they’ll seek that out,” Raville said. “They’ll probably be in industrial areas and in a neighborhood near you.”
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