Denver Considers Safe Injection Sites

By Kelly Burch 11/14/17

A city council member is traveling to Vancouver to see the safe spaces in action. 

The injection booths at Insite, a safe injection site in Vancouver
The injection booths at Insite, a safe injection site in Vancouver Photo via YouTube

Denver could become one of the first cities in the nation to open a safe injection site, where drug users can inject drugs without fear of arrest and with trained medical staff on site. 

The city is considering a plan that would open a safe injection site as a way to reduce the number of people who overdose in public and the amount of used syringes abandoned on the streets. Officials also hope that the sites would provide a first contact between drug users and the professionals who could help them kick the habit for good, according to a report in The Denver Post

The plan has widespread support in the city where 20 people fatally overdosed in public last year. Legislation that would allow Denver to create a safe injection site was passed in the Colorado legislature this month with bipartisan support. 

Dr. Steve Sherick, an emergency department physician and chair of the Denver Medical Society board, is in favor of giving the safe injection site a try. 

“People are dying already,” Sherick said. “Shaming them clearly does not stop them from being addicted to drugs. What I want to do, from a doctor’s standpoint, is to try to stop people from dying.”

He said that the safe injection site, which would be stocked with the overdose antidote drug naloxone, is one part of a comprehensive plan to lower death rates. 

Albus Brooks, the president of the City Council in Denver, will leave this week on a trip to Vancouver to see how that city’s safe injection site works. However, there are still road blocks to the site becoming a reality: Mayor Michael Hancock has not endorsed the idea, and Denver’s health department is still exploring the issues. 

Some drug users who spoke with The Denver Post said that they would use a safe injection site because the idea of injecting heroin alone—and risking an overdose—is terrifying. 

“If I die in the alley behind the trash can, how do I have a chance to improve my life?” said Vernon Lewis. Another user who was only identified as "Xavier" said that the site would give users privacy and dignity. 

“We’re people too. We care what people think,” said Xavier, 25. “Imagine if we could do this someplace safe and we wouldn’t have to be in Civic Center park embarrassing the [expletive] out of ourselves?”

Similar proposals are being considered in Seattle, Washington and California, but they have met resistance along the way. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.