Lawmakers draw up proposal to allow cities to approve safe, supervised injection sites

Goal: Prevent overdoses and spread of HIV, Hep C

DENVER -- It's a touchy subject. Should drug addicts have a safe, supervised place to inject drugs? Lisa Raville, of the Harm Reduction Action Center, is leading the charge to make it happen.

The center is a needle exchange program, on Colfax across from the Capitol. It's a place where addicts can properly dispose of their used syringes, acquire new ones and access referrals. She'd like to see the service expanded to give drug users a place to use the syringes under supervision.

"The average heroin user injects three to five times a day," she said. "The average cocaine user injects 12 to 15 times a day. When you're homeless or transitionally housed, you either inject outside, in alleys, in parks or in business bathrooms."

Raville told Denver7 that she and her staff would like to bring "injecting" out of the public sphere and into a supervised environment, for safety reasons.

Raville said there's not enough money to provide substance abuse treatment to everyone who needs it.

"What we can do," she said, "is prevent and eliminate the transmission of HIV and Hep C and keep people alive from overdosing."

She pointed to seven large plastic bins that were full of used needles, turned in by the drug users over the last week.

Without the Harm Reduction Action Center, those needles would likely have ended up in alleys, parks, playgrounds or business restrooms.

Statistics

Between February 8, 2012 and September 30, 2017, 6,966 participants used the Harm Reduction Action Center, and disposed of 2.1 million syringes.

A total of 40,403 referrals were made.

Participants Drug of choice

  • 51% Heroin
  • 50% Meth
  •  8% Cocaine
  • 10% Speedball (Coke/Heroin combo)
  • 16% Goofball (Meth/Heroin combo)

Status at intake

  • HIV – 3%
  • HCV – 22%

A drug user, who declined to give his name, told Denver7 in August that wherever people do their drugs, it's a danger zone, "not just for the individual... but also for families, kids and everyone else."

Legislation

State Representative Leslie Herod, D-Denver, said the opioid crisis is getting worse, that's why lawmakers would like to take action.

"There has been a 500 percent increase in opioid use and deaths since 2006," she said, estimating that "we have about three years before we see the devastation that we've seen in other communities nationally."

Herod said many lawmakers want to see proactive measures "so we don't see the deaths that other communities are seeing."

She said a bipartisan committee is going to recommend six bills to deal with the crisis.

"We have to look at prevention, treatment and recovery," she said. 

One of the bills would deal with the possibility of a "safe use" site.

"What we need to do," she said, "is make sure that we have a place that is safe, and is away from children, parks and libraries, where they can have medically supervised care and also a path to recovery."

She said it's a conversation that Coloradans need to have.

"We're talking about one Coloradan dying every 36 hours, because of an overdose," she said.

Opioids Public Meeting

On Thursday evening, there will be a public meeting to discuss Opioids in Denver.

The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. at Mile High United Way, at 711 Park Avenue West.

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