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Opioid Bill Hits Roadblock In Colorado State Legislature

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A bi-partisan group of lawmakers are sponsoring six bills to combat the opioid crisis in Colorado.

Editor’s note: Senate Bill 40, the bill to create a supervised injection facility, was rejected by a Republican-led legislative panel on Feb. 14.

Efforts to create a safe place for users of heroin and other injectable drugs to use have hit some challenges in their legislative journey. Part of a group of six bipartisan bills, Senate Bill 40 would allow for supervised injection facilities in the state. In addition to providing a place for drug users to inject, the site would also provide clean needles and access to health care and treatment referrals.

Democratic Rep. Jonathan Singer helped craft the bill. He said one of the biggest concerns was that the state would be creating a site that looked more like a drug den. That’s why they changed the name from a “supervised injection site,” the more generally used term, to an “overdose prevention site.”

Credit Jeffrey Beall / Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Democratic Rep. Jonathan Singer helped craft Senate Bill 40 which would allow heroin users to inject at a supervised facility.

“One of the things that we want to make sure is that there’s a bright clear line that shows that the state of Colorado is not endorsing drug use,” he said. “What we’re doing is making sure that people have access to clean syringes if they’re gonna use and access to counseling services when they use so that they can stop the behavior.”

Facilities like the one proposed in SB 40 have been around since the mid-1980s. There are about 120 sites in 65 cities across in 12 countries. But the United States has never had one until recently. San Francisco and Philadelphia became the first cities to approve a SIF.

The original version of the bill also included Denver as a location for testing a pilot program. That has been removed in favor of allowing cities and counties with the highest rates of opioid overdoses to be eligible.

“They are going to have the ability to apply to the state for this waiver,” Singer said. “It’s then up to the local public health agencies to and city government to actually put this forward to their community.”

Another of the six opioid bills seeks to stop addiction before it starts by limiting the number of pain pills that can be prescribed. According to federal data, Colorado ranked second worst for prescription drug misuse in 2013. A study last year showed that 70 percent of heroin users had used pain pills first.

Sam Quinones, journalist and author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, was the featured speaker at a recent event examining the opioid epidemic held in Denver. In an interview before his speech, Quinones said the crisis is about supply. It started with doctors overprescribing pain medication because they believed they were helping their patients.

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Journalist and author Sam Quinones was the featured speaker at Dreamland in Denver, an event about the opioid epidemic in Colorado.

“A big part of prevention is reducing supply because that is how you prevent people from becoming addicts in the first place,” said Quinones.

The bill, Senate Bill 22, would limit an opioid prescription to a seven-day supply and one refill for seven days, with certain exceptions. Singer said the lawmakers that drafted the bill are addressing concerns that the bill could adversely affect those who suffer from chronic pain or need palliative care.

“We’re going to limit those prescriptions in a way that’s thoughtful and ensuring that we’re not discriminating against people who need medication and access to those painkillers to get back their quality of life,” said Singer.

The group of bills also tackles other issues associated with the opioid crisis, including: increasing access to medication-assisted treatment, expanding Medicaid coverage to include in-patient treatment and insurance reform. The bills are expected to come up for a vote in early March.