DENVER -- The Denver City Council passed an ordinance to create a supervised drug use site pilot program on Monday.
The site is intended to provide a safe space for injection that is supervised by trained staff, helping prevent overdose deaths and the transfer of preventable diseases.
The ordinance passed, 12-1. State lawmakers will have to approve the site when the next session begins in January.
The site also helps connect drug users with treatment and health care support, according to Councilman Albus Brooks.
"When you view someone simply as an addict, it is easy to stigmatize them and ignore their pain; when you view them as your neighbor, you see their story as connected to yours and feel called to act," Brooks said. "
"Many of our neighbors in Denver are struggling with this public health crisis. To do nothing would be a grave injustice. That's simply not who Denver is.
"The pilot program created by this ordinance is a sign that our city is committed to saving the lives of our neighbors."
Cities across the nation are considering opening supervised use sites to combat the growing overdose epidemic.
Denver would be the first U.S. city to have such a site. There are 63 cities outside of the U.S. that have safe injection sites.
More than 1,000 Coloradans died of overdoses in 2017 and it's estimated that emergency services are responding to almost three overdoses per day.
The two-year pilot program would be privately funded. Users who show up at the site would get clean needles and medical staff would be equipped with Narcan to make sure they don't overdose.
This ordinance isn't without controversy as some say the sites have the potential to enable addicts.
"My heart goes out to Coloradans who find themselves in these difficult situations and need help," House minority leader Patrick Neville said in a statement. "But so-called safe injections sites are a bad policy for Denver and everyone who lives and works in this city.
"It makes no sense for City Council to think that it will decrease drug use by facilitating the same drug use that everyone wants to see diminished. We should not enable the kind of behavior that we want to discourage.
"If the question is how we ensure drug addicts get treatment, then let's address that question. However, it is short-sighted and contradictory to say that we want to help addicts get off drugs -- but only after we've continued to support their habit."