Denver could become the first U.S. city to host a safe injection site, a place where people could inject various kinds of drugs under medical supervision. Denver’s city council voted 12–1 in late November to allow a site to open for two years.
No U.S. city currently has a safe injection site, though 63 cities outside the United States have them. Many U.S. cities, including Denver, have needle exchanges, which provide clean needles but do not allow injection at the site. Several current federal laws prohibit safe injection sites, which may become a problem if Denver moves forward to open such a site. The next legal hurdle for Denver’s safe injection site is the passage of the law to allow the site.
Is Safety Worth It?
Proponents of safe injection sites cite the harm reduction benefits such sites can have in the face of skyrocketing overdose rates. No overdoses have been reported at any of the 63 safe injection sites worldwide. If an overdose did occur, site staff would have Narcan (naloxone) on hand to counter it.
Those who support safe injection sites also point out that it might stop people from injecting drugs on the streets, which would make those streets safer. Problems like needles being left on the streets and public intoxication could decrease. Furthermore, the site would be an atmosphere that encouraged those using it to get treatment, which might not be available elsewhere.
Measure sponsor Albus Brooks has reached out to the governor and legislative leaders to ask for their support for the site. “I am very hopeful that these folks in the General Assembly will look at a 1,000 deaths from drug overdoses in our state (in 2017) and move quickly to pass this bill,” Brooks said in U.S. News and World Report.
A full 20 percent of Colorado’s 2017 overdose deaths occurred in Denver, and legislation aimed at lowering overdose rates could take years to be fully implemented. A safe injection site could be opened in early 2019 if it is approved. The current needle exchange site has expressed interest in converting to safe injection if legal hurdles are overcome.
Those who oppose safe injection sites say that it encourages continued drug misuse and could increase the number of problems that drug use can cause. Kevin Flynn, the only Denver City Council member to oppose the measure, said that the sites don’t work hard enough to get people into drug treatment.
“A safe injection site is not treatment. It’s like bringing a lung cancer patient into a smoking room and giving him more cigarettes,” he said.
Flynn advocates a wider distribution of naloxone to hospitals and directly to those injecting drugs or using them in other ways. He thinks it is more effective to find people with addictions where they are dying, and not invite them in to safely inject in front of others, according to ABC’s Denver affiliate.
The debate over safe injection sites is likely to continue even as other measures are taken to prevent overdose deaths. Regardless of whether safe injection sites become a part of the city of Denver or not, there can be no argument that the best way to remain truly safe is to seek help in the form of addiction treatment if you are dealing with a substance use disorder.
Contact The Recovery Village Palmer Lake today to find out more about your treatment options.