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Safe injection sites being reconsidered to help battle opioid epidemic

Denver is debating safe injection sites again, even though the state legislature shut the idea down nine months ago. Supporters believe things are different this time around.

DENVER — There's a new push for an old idea to battle the opioid and heroin epidemic in Denver.

The city is debating safe injection sites again, even though the state legislature shut the idea down nine months ago.

But supporters believe things are different this time around. The proposal is to set up a pilot safe injection site location in Denver for two years and then reassess how the program is running.

Lisa Raville with the Harm Reduction Action Center is helping with the proposal along with Councilman Albus Brooks. She said the idea is to move drug use from public areas like alleys, business bathrooms and parks to a supervised injection site.

Raville said there would be trained personnel in the case of an overdose. She added that the site would also be open to people using other drugs like cocaine and meth.

“We’re very pleased to see it came unanimously out of the health and safety committee with Denver City Council,” Raville said.

The full city council will have a first reading on November 19.

Rob Valuck, a drug addiction expert, said there are similar programs in more than 60 cities around the world with evidence that programs like this help reduce spreading diseases. He also said it could improve access to treatment.

“It's not that we are sanctioning something that isn’t there,” Valuck said. “It’s already there.”

“We simply don't have enough treatment facilities and programs that it's easy to walk in and get treatment,” he added. “In the interim, what do we do?”

However, Denver been down this road before - including Democratic State Rep. Leslie Herod. Herod was there when this effort first failed because the state legislature didn’t have enough votes to waive a nuisance law that would give Denver the opportunity to move ahead if they chose to.

Elected officials also heard concerns about crime and worry a safe injection site could encourage drug use.

But Raville and Valuck said people who are already deep in addiction don’t need encouragement. This proposal would help remove drug use from public places and contain it to one place.

Supporters hope if the city council moves forward it sends a clear message of intent to state legislators, who would be asked again to waive a nuisance law so that the property isn’t seized for use and possession. We asked Rep. Herod if having a democratic majority in the senate and house and a democratic governor would help.

She said it might help with committee assignments but emphasized that the bill is bipartisan.

Officials say they plan to privately-fund this, not use tax dollars.

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