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Colorado Bill Allowing “Safe Injection Sites” Passes Through Committee

by Demarco Moore

March 8, 2023
A client of the Insite supervised safe injection site in Vancouver Canada collects her kit in May 2011

A Colorado bill that would allow local communities to open sites specifically for people to use drugs under medical supervision passed its first committee test.

Could Colorado Legalize Supervised Drug Use?

House Bill 23-1202, if signed into law, would allow Colorado communities to set up “safe injection sites,” where people can use drugs, like heroin or meth, under close supervision. Colorado State Representative Elisabeth Epps, one of the bill’s sponsors, announced on Twitter that HB 23-1202 had passed through the Colorado Public Health Public & Behavioral Health & Human Services Committee with an 8-3 vote. The next step is a hearing on the House Floor.

What are safe injection sites?

Safe injection sites, also known as “overdose prevention sites,” are designated locations where people can bring pre-obtained drugs and use them under the supervision of trained medical staff. Drug addiction can lead to unsafe injections in public spaces like bathrooms, alleyways and parks. People might use unsterile needles and unpredictable drug supplies, which could lead to a fatal overdose if untreated.

Having a medical professional present to intervene in case of a substance use emergency significantly increases the chance of surviving an otherwise fatal overdose. Local ABC affiliate Denver 7 reported on the Colorado bill’s hearing on Wednesday, March 1, saying HB 23-1202 would “authorize the operation of an overdose prevention center within the city’s jurisdiction for the purpose of saving the lives of persons at risk of preventable overdoses.”

Recommended: How Safe Injections Sites Save Lives 

Bill advocates say sites increase public health access

Colorado has seen a significant increase in drug overdose deaths in recent years. In 2020, 1,477 Coloradans died of drug overdoses, the most overdose deaths ever recorded in the state. That number was also a 38% increase from 2019, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

Harm reduction advocates, such as Lisa Raville, argue that safe injection sites, which are proposed in HB 23-1202, can facilitate conversations between people dealing with substance use problems and on-site staff or peers. These conversations can cover a range of topics, including preventing infectious diseases through the use of clean needles and obtaining referrals for addiction treatment. Raville is the executive director of the Harm Reduction Action Center in Denver, the largest public health agency in Colorado that specifically works with people who inject drugs.

“We want to give them another opportunity to be inside with trained professionals who are there to recognize and respond,” Raville said after six-month data for New York’s drug injection sites was released. “I want overdoses happening on my property if it’s going to happen, not in an alley, a park or a business bathroom.”

Recent studies have also linked safe injection sites to:

  • Fewer ambulance calls
  • Saving taxpayer dollars
  • No confirmed increase in neighborhood crime rates

“It’s actually better to have us in the community, investing in health and safety and engaging folks for healthier and safer [people], today,” Raville said.

Recommended: Do Safe Injection Sites Work?

Critics say safe injection sites invite crime

Former U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado Jason Dunn strongly opposes HB 23-1202. Dunn believes safe injection sites would invite a “homeless population congregating around one of these sites, which will attract drug dealers, prostitution and violent crime.”

When Denver’s city council passed an ordinance in 2018 to create a two-year pilot program for supervised injection sites, Dunn said he’d use “his civil and criminal powers” to prevent the sites from opening. However, as Denver 7 reports, Denver’s ordinance is contingent on the state passing legislation allowing Colorado cities to create such sites.

“There’s nothing in this proposed legislation that says using illegal drugs in that facility is no longer a violation of law,” Dunn said in the Denver 7 report. “What you’re going to have basically is a crime-free zone where anybody can do any drug of their choice and know that they can go there to do it because law enforcement won’t prosecute him for being there.”

Harm reduction efforts are increasing to prevent fatal overdoses

The United States experienced over 100,000 drug overdose deaths in 2021. Harm reduction advocates say safe injection sites would allow people suffering from drug addiction to safely use without the fear of negative stigma,  law enforcement or overdoses. With healthcare resources and addiction treatment referrals, advocates believe these sites could be the key to truly reversing the deadly trend of fatal overdoses in America.

In the meantime, law enforcement officials who confiscate illegal drugs recommend avoiding unpredictable street supplies that could be laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 100 times more powerful than morphine. 

Do you know someone whose life has been negatively impacted by drugs or alcohol? Maybe you have frequent substance use cravings. These are signs you’re dealing with an addiction. Landmark Recovery can help.

Addictions are treatable, and recovery is possible and available to everyone. Call Landmark Recovery at 888-448-0302 today to speak to a treatment provider, and find a proven path to recovery.

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About the Author

Demarco Moore

Demarco Moore

A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, Demarco Moore currently writes blogs about drug addiction treatment and recovery to help save lives at treatment provider Landmark Recovery. Before that, he cut his teeth as a sports writer at the Manchester Times, where his coverage and stories won Tennessee Press Association awards in 2016 and 2017.

He’s always had a knack for storytelling. Moore’s written content for junior golf tournaments and helped to amplify the “People Not Profits” message of credit unions. When he’s not writing, Moore loves to travel, laugh and put his mental health into the hands of the Tennessee Titans during football season.