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DENVER (KDVR) — At Denver’s Union Station, widespread public drug use has transit workers labeling the hub a “lawless hellhole.”

According to the transit union, RTD passengers and employees in recent months have faced loiterers, encampments and illegal drug use while boarding buses, trains and light rail.

“It doesn’t have to be like this,” said Lisa Raville, executive director of Denver’s Harm Reduction Action Center. “It doesn’t have to be so public.”

Union Station. Getty Images

HRAC provides syringe access and overdose prevention services as overdose numbers climb to record levels in the Mile High City.

“We know public overdoses are an issue, we know public injecting is an issue, we want to reduce that,” Raville said.

Raville has been pushing for a supervised injection site in Denver, which remains illegal at the state level despite receiving approval from the Denver City Council in 2018.

The sites would allow people to inject pre-obtained drugs under the watchful eye of a trained professional. 

On Nov. 30, the nation’s first supervised use site opened in New York City.

According to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, 17 overdoses have been reversed in the first nine days of operations.

“I’d rather it happen with my staff and myself than random people and business owners in the community, or people just trying to catch a bus,” Raville said.

The sites have faced sharp backlash from Colorado Republican legislators, who have said the sites encourage illegal drug use.

But as overdose deaths continue to climb, Raville said more needs to be done to bring drug use out of the public’s eye and into a controlled environment.

“We will absolutely, positively get an overdose prevention site in Denver one of these days, absolutely,” Raville said. “I just don’t know how many more people have to die of preventable overdoses, before legislators will allow us to do something different.”

Colorado total overdose deaths statewide

Overdose death numbers show Colorado is on pace for another record year of overdose deaths. Through August of this year, Colorado counted 1,225 overdose deaths and is on pace for several hundred more.

  • 2018: 974
  • 2019: 1,072
  • 2020: 1,477
  • 2021: on pace for 1,838 overdose deaths