One idea to battle the ongoing opioid epidemic, some health officials say, is to create supervised facilities for people who inject drugs like heroin. The idea is to meet users where they are to treat them. But such a facility will not be coming to Colorado following a 3-2 vote at the state Capitol Wednesday (Feb. 14, 2018) along party lines. Republicans in the Senate's State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee rejected Senate Bill 40. The bill would have allowed one Colorado community to create a facility where drug users could safely inject under the supervision of medical staff.
Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Democrat, helped craft the bill. Even though the bill had support from a variety of organizations and advocacy groups, he said he was not surprised by the outcome.
"You had restaurant and lodging associations coming out in favor. Law enforcement, people in the substance abuse prevention community all on the same page," he said. "Unfortunately, we didn't have the votes in a Republican committee to get it out of that committee."
Facilities like the one proposed in SB 40 have been around since the mid-1980s. There are about 120 sites in 65 cities in 12 countries. But the United States never had one until recently. San Francisco and Philadelphia became the first cities to approve so-called SIFs.
To get SB 40 passed, the bi-partisan group of lawmakers who sponsored the bills made last minute changes to address concerns that a supervised injection facility would create a drug den. The facility name was changed to an overdose prevention site, a specific location (Denver) for the pilot program was removed as was immunity for criminal activity.
But the changes weren’t enough for Republicans on the committee, including Sen. Owen Hill. He told The Denver Post that while Colorado has an opioid problem, “I’m not yet moved that this is the right solution.”
Singer vowed to keep fighting to bring a supervised injection facility to Colorado.
“Our hope is this has started a conversation,” he said. “Our hope is that we can move forward and see if we can get some people to change their mind in the near future.”
SB 40 was one of six bills that a bi-partisan group of lawmakers have introduced to combat the state’s growing opioid epidemic. Three of the bills – which address prevention, treatment and insurance coverage – will come before the House Public Health Care & Human Services committee at the end of the month.