Amid Denver Push for Supervised Drug Injection Site, Feds Threaten Reprisals
By Andrew Kenney
The feds aren't happy with Denver's controversial new plan for drug treatment.
In recent weeks, the Denver City Council and Mayor Michael Hancock approved a law that would allow the city to host a supervised drug-use facility. If state lawmakers also approve, Denver could become the first U.S. city where people can use heroin and other drugs under the supervision of medical professionals.
The idea is that supervision can prevent overdose deaths and help people get services. But the sites remain illegal under federal law, as the city was reminded in a letter Tuesday from the U.S. Attorney's Office and the local field office of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The law enforcement officials compared supervised facilities to "so-called crack houses," claiming that they will "attract drug dealers, sexual predators, and other criminals, ultimately destroying the surrounding community." They also said there's no evidence the sites reduce drug deaths or that users seek treatment, and warned that they "normalize serious drug use."
People involved in the facilities face penalties including "forfeiture of the property, criminal fines, civil monetary penalties up to $250,000, and imprisonment up to 20 years in jail," the letter states.
Jason Dunn was sworn in as the U.S. attorney for Colorado in October. But the federal office already was signaling a tough stance on drug issues: Bob Troyer, who preceded Dunn, warned that the office would take a more aggressive approach to cannabis businesses.
Councilman Albus Brooks quickly responded to defend the new law Tuesday.
"While we recognize the role of the federal government, we cannot wait for federal action while the death toll rises. These people are not simply addicts. They are our neighbors, friends, and family members who are experiencing addiction," he said in a written statement.
Denver's local health department, Brooks said, has the power to "address and regulate this type of emergency." His statement cited studies that found supervised sites have no effect on local crime and that they reduce emergency calls and save lives.
One study of the Insite facility in Vancouver found a significant drop in overdose deaths for people living near the facility, but no change in the rest of the city. The area around Insite is crowded with people who are living outside, according to WHYY. There have been no overdose deaths reported at the site. There are more than 90 supervised sites worldwide, the study said.
A broader review of 75 studies found that the sites were effective in "promoting safer injection conditions, enhancing access to primary health care, and reducing the overdose frequency," with no apparent increase to "drug injecting, drug trafficking or crime in the surrounding environments."
Hancock already has signed the Denver law, and state legislators say they're likely to take up the question this session.
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