A bill proposed in Colorado would give the go-ahead to local governments to set up so-called “safe injection sites” within their jurisdictions, with advocates saying that the facilities help prevent overdoses and save lives.
The sites, also known as “overdose prevention centers,” have been authorized in other states and cities in the United States –– but rarely without controversy.
The legislation introduced in the Colorado House of Representatives would allow “localities to set up a site where people can use previously obtained controlled substance[s] in a monitored setting,” according to local news station Denver7.
The Associated Press reported that Democratic lawmakers there “pushed the controversial bill forward in committee Wednesday,” but while the party controls the state General Assembly, “the measure faces steep odds amid broad backlash from police, Republicans, and lingering questions about whether the sites are even legal in the United States.”
A year ago, the U.S. Department of Justice told the Associated Press that it was “evaluating” the sites and in discussion with regulators about implementing “appropriate guardrails.”
“It does not supply drugs by any means. And it also doesn’t force any local government in a city to establish one of these sites in their communities,” said Colorado state House Rep. Jenny Willford, a Democrat, as quoted by Denver7.
In late 2021, New York City opened the nation’s first overdose prevention center, which came a year after the city suffered from more than 2,000 drug overdose deaths, the highest number in two decades.
The city, citing a report from its Health Department, estimated that the overdose prevention centers could prevent as many as 130 deaths per year.
“New York City has led the nation’s battle against COVID-19, and the fight to keep our community safe doesn’t stop there. After exhaustive study, we know the right path forward to protect the most vulnerable people in our city. And we will not hesitate to take it,” said Bill de Blasio, then the mayor of New York City. “Overdose Prevention Centers are a safe and effective way to address the opioid crisis. I’m proud to show cities in this country that after decades of failure, a smarter approach is possible.”
A study released last year found that NYC’s overdose prevention centers have done their job.
“Between November 30, 2021, and January 31, 2022, 613 individuals used OPC services 5975 times across 2 sites,” read the study, which was conducted by the NYC Health Department.
“During the first 2 months of OPC operation, trained staff responded 125 times to mitigate overdose risk. In response to opioid-involved symptoms of overdose, naloxone was administered 19 times and oxygen 35 times, while respiration or blood oxygen levels were monitored 26 times. In response to stimulant-involved symptoms of overdose (also known as overamping), staff intervened 45 times to provide hydration, cooling, and de-escalation as needed. Emergency medical services responded 5 times, and participants were transported to emergency departments 3 times. No fatal overdoses occurred in OPCs or among individuals transported to hospitals,” the study continued. “More than half of individuals using OPC services (52.5%) received additional support during their visit. This included, but was not limited to naloxone distribution, counseling, hepatitis C testing, medical care, and holistic services (eg, auricular acupuncture).”
It remains to be seen whether the facilities get approved in Colorado, where some Republicans have already expressed wariness.
“You’re basically sending a message that, ‘Hey, it’s OK to do this,’” said GOP state House Rep. Gabe Evans, as quoted by the Associated Press.