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Lawmakers introduce bill to allow Colorado cities to open safe injection sites

A Republican-led legislative panel rejected the idea in 2018, and the bill died.

DENVER — State lawmakers are looking at whether to let cities like Denver open "safe injection sites" for people addicted to drugs. Denver passed a resolution to do this more than four years ago, but state law has prevented them from implementing it.

In early 2018, a Republican-led legislative panel rejected a bipartisan bill to allow Denver to open a supervised injection site for people addicted to drugs. Months later, in November 2018, Denver passed an ordinance on a 12-1 vote to open a pilot location. Trained professionals would be on-site to save people in case they overdosed. Denver hasn't been able to open it because they're still illegal in Colorado.

This week state lawmakers introduced HB23-1202 to change that. Thirty-five Democrats have sponsored the bill that would allow a municipality to authorize the operation of an overdose prevention center. 

"The number one substance use treatment requirement is that people have to be alive," said Lisa Raville, executive director of the Harm Reduction Action Center.

On the corner of 8th Avenue and Lincoln Street, people battling addiction come to the Harm Reduction Action Center for clean needles. Now the nonprofit is ready to let people use their drugs here, too.

Raville supported Denver's ordinance in 2018, and she's excited lawmakers are proposing the idea again. She believes overdose prevention sites will save lives. 

"It's not legal for them to use on my property," she said. "Use and profession on the property can get the property seized so they go a few blocks away alone and people are dying."

As of Thursday, every state lawmaker who is sponsoring the bill is a Democrat. Republican State Rep. Gabe Evans, a former police officer, does not support the idea. 

"It is going to jeopardize the community safety and order at these sites and it does nothing to hold the drug dealers who are peddling these illegal narcotics," he said. "It does nothing to hold them accountable." 

According to the bill, the site would also provide access to sterile equipment, tools to test for the presence of fentanyl, counseling, and referrals to treatment. Rep. Evans believes safe injection sites are a "short-sighted solution" to a long-term problem. 

"We need to have a two-pronged approach that holds drug dealers accountable while also increasing access to health care and mental health care," he said. 

"Is this protecting these folks or is this enabling them to do something that is scientifically proven to be hazardous to their health?" Evans continued.

Drugs have killed more than 1,400 people in Denver since the city passed its ordinance in 2018, according to the Denver coroner's office. 


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