DENVER (KDVR) — A bill that would give cities the power to open what are being called “overdose prevention centers” advanced in committee Wednesday evening. If the bill becomes law, centers opened in Colorado cities would allow trained staffers to supervise drug use.
The proposal to permit supervised drug use sparked some controversy, but supporters said it is a better alternative than what is already happening with drug use in Colorado communities.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from my residents that are finding needles in the park where our children play, seeing people use drugs on trails and bathrooms, witnessing Narcan being administered behind the grocery store, and losing their loved ones,” said freshman state Rep. Jenny Willford.
Wilford and fellow freshman state Rep. Elisabeth Epps are sponsoring the bill that would allow cities in Colorado to operate overdose prevention centers if they choose to.
“This is a bill, the reason why it has no fiscal note, no appropriation is because we are asking and inviting that each community can decide, each municipality can decide if it’s right for them or not. That’s quite distinct from the California model,” Epps explained before the House Public and Behavioral Health and Human Services committee.
California’s governor vetoed that legislature’s effort to allow the prevention sites, but sponsors say they are urging Gov. Jared Polis to say yes to the effort here, saying Colorado needs to save lives now and stop the average of five overdose deaths seen daily in the state.
His office has previously told FOX31 he has not seen the bill but may be concerned with the approach of the measure.
Colorado’s bill passed 8-3 on Wednesday and heads to the Committee of the Whole next.
Opponents worry about ‘controversial bill’
Opponents in committee worry about the centers enabling drug use, promoting a poor culture and spurring crime in communities that decide to open one.
“This is a controversial bill,” said Rep. Richard Holtorf of Akron. ‘”We need to try to legislate and be driven by thoughtful solutions to complex problems. And I always point out that a lot of times there are other effects, second-, third- and fourth-order effects to what we do.”
So far, Denver would be prepared to open a site like this if the bill clears. The capital city cleared the way for a two-year pilot program in 2018.
Council members from places like Aurora testified Wednesday too, saying they think their city could benefit from having multiple centers like this, but they are skeptical about support.