DENVER — A key legislative backer of supervised drug injection sites tells 9NEWS it’s “highly likely” the first such site would be directly across the street from the State Capitol.
Democratic State Senator Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood says the Harm Reduction Action Center, a needle exchange site at 213 East Colfax, is the likely location if the legislature allows Denver to create America’s first supervised injection site.
Opponents of supervised injection sites had suggested they would be put in suburban neighborhoods along with downtown Denver where open air drug use is rampant.
“We know, statistically, people will not go beyond three blocks to actually use one of these facilities,” Pettersen said. “People aren’t going to be coming in from other places to use it. It’s not going to increase crime. These are people who are using now.”
Pettersen was interviewed on Next with Kyle Clark Thursday, a day after Denver Mayor Michael Hancock significantly walked back his support for such sites, also in an interview on Next.
“I understand why he’s raising some concerns,” Pettersen said. “I think that right now there’s been a lot of pressure. People are trying to use us as a political tactic to draw fear for people.”
Pettersen said she’s still pursuing legislation that would allow Denver to create a site where drug users could inject under medical supervision.
Denver City Council approved the plan in November. Mayor Hancock initially said he fully supported the idea. Hancock told Next on Wednesday that he did not necessarily support bringing the sites to Denver.
Pettersen has yet to introduce her legislation. Republican Senator Kevin Priola of Henderson said he will be a co-sponsor.
"I've done research on the other safe-use sites around the world," Priola said to Next. "I'm a pro-life Catholic. Saving lives and looking out for my fellow man and woman is what scripture teaches."
“It’s critical that we do this in a bipartisan way,” Pettersen said. “This came out unanimously last year in the interim committee, so this is not a red or a blue issue.”
Supervised injection sites exist in Canada, Europe, and Australia. Several U.S. cities are considering them as a measure to combat the opioid crisis.
“These are really the people at the spectrum of the opioid crisis that are the most at risk of dying today,” Pettersen said. “So the question is how are we going to keep those folks alive who have really fallen through the cracks in every way.”
Pettersen paints the sites as a last-ditch effort to intervene before opioid users succumb to the disease.
“This isn’t going to change whether or not they use,” Pettersen said. “This is going to change whether or not they live. And that they ultimately have access to the treatment that they need.”
Asked on Next whether her district and the City of Lakewood would be a good place for a supervised injection site, Pettersen said no.
“It would be in areas where there is a high percentage of people who are using injection drugs,” Pettersen said. “There isn’t an area in Lakewood where I think that this would actually be successful.”
Republican House Minority Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, an opponent of supervised injection sites, has suggested that Democrats in swing districts could face recall elections over the issue.
In 2013, two Senate Democrats were recalled and a third resigned after passing controversial gun control measures.
Pettersen called the talk of recalls “desperate.”
“They are trying to stop the bleeding from the backlash against what’s happening nationally in the Republican Party,” Pettersen said. “This is not an issue that is going to ultimately be front and center on why people vote a certain way, not an issue where people are going to recall legislators.”
Minority Leader Neville is scheduled to appear on Next on Friday.