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7 things to know about supervised drug injection sites

How supervised injection sites could work
Posted at 8:39 PM, Feb 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-14 01:13:10-05

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DENVER – The future of lawmakers’ proposal to create supervised drug injection sites will become clearer when the bill goes before a committee Wednesday.

Senate Bill 18-040 could be killed or debated further in the committee Wednesday afternoon.

Supervised injection sites operate in Vancouver, British Columbia, and some lawmakers want to bring a similar approach to Colorado. No sites currently exist in the United States.

The concept is controversial. Supervised injection sites allow drug users to bring their own drugs, purchased illegally, shoot up using clean needles that are provided on location. Supervisors watch users and intervene when necessary with the overdose-reversing drug Narcan.

Supporters of the idea say the sites reduce overdose deaths and keep drug use off the streets, while opponents say they encourage illegal drug use.

Here are 7 things to know about supervised drug injection sites, no matter which side of the issue you're on:

1. State taxpayer money won’t be used to fund sites in Colorado. The bill’s sponsor, State Representative Jonathan Singer, says the bill bans state taxpayer money from being used but allows cities to use their money from taxes.

“A charity, private business or local city taxes could be used if they so choose,” Singer told Denver7.

2. The head of Vancouver’s public health department, which has coordinated such sites for 15 years, says the sites have reduced drug use.

"We have found that supervised injection sites don't increase drug use. And overall there's been a reduction in injection drug use in Vancouver in the years since we've offered supervised injection services," said Dr. Patricia Daly, the Chief Medical Health Officer for Vancouver Costal Health.

3. The number of discarded needles found on the streets in Vancouver declined after supervised injection sites opened, Daly said. However, used needles and plastic sterile water viles used in drug use are clearly visible in high-drug-use areas of Vancouver. Though one supervised injection site was less than a block away, a Denver7 crew watched people using drugs out in the open last month in Vancouver.

4. No location has been chosen for supervised drug sites in Colorado, but some Denver city leaders such as Councilman Albus Brooks are in favor of supervised injection sites. Brooks represents Denver’s Globeville, Elyria-Swansea, Five Points, Cole, Clayton, Whittier, Curtis Park and City Park neighborhoods.

5. Users must bring their own drugs. Only clean needles are supplied.

6. The bill proposed in the Colorado legislature says the supervised injection sites will not be seized by local or state law enforcement if trained professionals are overseeing people to ensure they do not overdose, bill supporter State Representative Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, said in an email Tuesday.

7. Opponents say sites will legitimize drug use. Those opposed, which include many members of law enforcement, say sites will make hard-core drug use common. The head of Rocky Mountain’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federal agency tasked with training officers and helping with drug investigations, says drug use can be reduced if the public views using drugs as a negative. Tom Gorman points to the declining use of tobacco as proof public perception affects usage.