DEA responds to proposed safe injection site in Colorado for illegal drugs

MGN

DENVER (KKTV) - A city in Colorado is one step closer to having a supervised drug injection facility and the DEA is making it clear such sites are illegal.

On Nov. 26, Denver City Council approved a pilot program for the facility with a 12-1 vote. The proposed site now must be given the okay by the State General Assembly.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock tweeted out support for the proposed site:

Denver is seeing significant numbers of overdose deaths. In 2017, there were 201 total deaths, 110 involving opioids. I’m proud that @DenCityCouncil has voted yes on Supervised Use Sites tonight. We need to start looking at more innovative ways to approach the #opioidcrisis."

According to DrugPolicy.Org, supervised injection facilities are provided in legally sanctioned facilities that allow people to consume pre-obtained drugs under the supervision of trained staff and are designed to reduce the health and public order issues often associated with public drug consumption.

11 News partner CBS Denver spoke to a state representative who opposes the proposed site.

“I think it’s a horrendous idea,” said State Rep. Patrick Neville.

Neville says the focus should be on treatment.

“We encourage people to break laws as long as they do so in a certain location? To me, that makes no sense. I think we should be discouraging this type of behavior not encouraging it by having these so-called sanctuary injection sites.”

The first regular session of the 72nd General Assembly for the State of Colorado is scheduled to convene on Jan. 4, 2019.

Click here for additional details on the proposed bill as of Nov. 13.

The Denver field office of the DEA and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado sent out a joint statement on the proposed site on Tuesday:

Foremost, the operation of such sites is illegal under federal law. 21 U.S.C. Sec. 856 prohibits the maintaining of any premises for the purpose of using any controlled substance. Potential penalties include forfeiture of the property, criminal fines, civil monetary penalties up to $250,000, and imprisonment up to 20 years in jail for anyone that knowingly opens, leases, rents, maintains, or anyone that manages or controls and knowingly and intentionally makes available such premises for use (whether compensated or otherwise). Other federal laws likely apply as well.

Second, there is no evidence that such sites actually reduce the number of drug-related deaths or make it more likely that users will seek help for their addiction or mental health issues. Indeed, a recent review of one facility in Vancouver found that the overdose death rate in the immediate vicinity of the facility was actually the highest in the city. This may be due in part to the fact that while these facilities are touted as being “safe” because of the availability of opioid antagonists (e.g., Naloxone or Narcan), these facilities are not actually limited to opioid users. Those injecting methamphetamine, cocaine, or other drugs for which there is no counteragent are also welcome to use the facility. The Denver facility likewise would welcome users of any drug, not just opioids.

Third, these facilities actually increase public safety risks. Just like so-called crack houses, these facilities will attract drug dealers, sexual predators, and other criminals, ultimately destroying the surrounding community. More importantly, the government-sanctioned operation of these facilities serves only to normalize serious drug usage – teaching adults and children alike that so-called “safe” drug usage is somehow appropriate or can actually be done “safely.” The type of drug use contemplated here is always life-threatening behavior.

Finally, we note that nothing in this statement should be read as casting aspersions on the laudable motives of those seeking to improve our communities and free Coloradans from the scourge of drug addiction. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Denver Field Office of the Drug Enforcement Administration support all methods of legal intervention to address the opioid and methamphetamine crisis in Colorado, and in fact work hard to facilitate them every day.