On the first day of the 2018 legislative session, in January, Colorado lawmakers will begin consideration of a bill to bring a supervised injection facility to Denver.
Denver-based Harm Reduction Action Center (HRAC) is working with the office of Denver City Council President Albus Brooks to spearhead the campaign.
A supervised injection facility is a place where heroin users can bring their own drugs and “shoot up” under the supervision of a trained professional to mitigate the risk of overdose and the spread of disease related to the sharing of needles and syringes. Those diseases include HIV/AIDS along with Hepatitis B and C .
“Right now, people inject in alleys and business bathrooms with no one monitoring or engaging them,” according to Brooks’ office and HRAC. “This can cause unhealthy encounters for individuals who are high and the average bystander.”
Currently, 63 cities are home to such facilities, with only one located in North America. Vancouver has been home to Insite, a supervised injection facility operated by Vancouver Coastal Health and the Portland Hotel Society, since 2003.
Brooks visited Insite in early November and said he believes the facility reduces health risks and saves lives.
District Attorney Stan Garnett, from the Twentieth Judicial District and Boulder County, is also a believer in the value of a supervised injection facility. In an October interview, he said he is working with the county attorney to investigate the possibility of bringing a similar site to Boulder County.
Garnett said he would like to see such a facility in operation, within the next year, in Boulder County. You can hear Garnett’s comments below:
Brooks’ office and Lisa Raville, director of the Harm Reduction Action Center Executive, anticipate that members of the homeless population would primarily be accessing the service. They project “those with housing will just go home to inject.”
The Vancouver facility operates under a Health Canada exemption from federal drug laws . In order to open a similar facility in Denver, advocates would have to secure an exemption from U.S. laws like the Crack House Statute, which “makes it a felony to open, lease, rent, use or maintain any place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance.”
When asked for comment regarding any potential impact on the homeless population, the Boulder Police Department declined an interview request but said, “Even though the supervised injection facility might reduce harm to the homeless population, we can’t condone illegal acts.”
Raville said she has not received direct vocal opposition to the proposed injection site, but has heard from numerous citizens who have expressed concerns regarding how the proposed facility might impact the community.
The location of the facility is on that list of concerns. HRAC is located on near the Capitol building, in Denver, and Raville said the Supervised Injection Facility would be housed in the same location. She said no one besides HRAC is interested in operating such a facility.
“If we truly want to get people out of the public eye with injecting, we can’t move this facility out of the downtown area. This facility would take folks from publicly injecting and into a controlled environment where trained professionals can be engaging them with access to services, substance abuse treatment, mental health professionals, housing professionals, etc.”
HRAC and Brooks’ office said they have heard concerns about an increase in crime around the facility. In response, they cite a study from BioMed Central, an organization dedicated to scientific research, there was no discernible difference in the rates of arrest for drug trafficking, assaults, and robbery during a one-year period before the opening of Vancouver’s facility and the one-year period after its opening. The study found that rates of vehicle break-ins and theft declined significantly in the year after the facility opened.
The FAQ sheet provided by HRAC and Brooks’ office says staff would ensure the person was in okay condition prior to leaving the facility.
“After someone were to inject in the supervised injection facility, they then usually hang out in another room and are monitored by trained staff. While that is not mandatory, it is strongly encouraged in other facilities around the world.”
According to the FAQ: “The HRAC currently works with about 130 folks per morning, in a 3-hour period. When the SIF is approved they will have 3-5 stalls (sterile cubicles where folks can inject) and will evaluate the need after a trial period.
On its website, the Vancouver facility reported an average of 514 injection room visits per day, in 2016, and an average of 75 visits per day to the needle exchange service.
Public debate exists regarding the effectiveness of this type of facility when it comes to bringing users to sobriety. Brooks’ office and HRAC said the primary goal of this service would be to prevent and eliminate the transfer of disease and overdose, but the FAQ sheet says for users who “are ready to make a change, the service providers at the HRAC are the first folks they come to. The HRAC, along with this initiative, is a gateway into substance abuse treatment.”