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Overdose prevention center bill could return to Colorado Capitol next year

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Sara Wilson

(Colorado Newsline) A Colorado legislative interim committee voted Wednesday to draft a bill for next session that would give a legal pathway for sites where people could use illicit drugs under supervision to operate in some parts of the state.

It is one of five bills the Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Study Committee voted to send through the drafting process. Rep. Elisabeth Epps and Sens. Kevin Priola and Kyle Mullica, all Democrats, will help draft the bill.

Overdose prevention centers, sometimes called safe-use or supervised-injection sites, allow people to take illegal drugs, like fentanyl and other opioids, under the watch of staff trained to respond to overdoses.

“Folks who are doing this work day in and day out are telling us that this is one of the things they need. One. Not in a vacuum and not without access to all the things that lead up to recovery and treatment and prevention. Of course not. But one of them,” Epps said Wednesday.

The committee voted 6-4 along party lines to draft the bill.

Epps and Priola sponsored a bill earlier this year that would have let municipalities decide whether to let overdose prevention centers operate. It passed the House of Representatives and then died in its Senate committee, where Mullica voted with Republicans to kill it.

“I still struggle today. I’ll be honest and transparent — I’m not convinced that this policy is the most effective one for us to do. But I do believe it’s a conversation we should be having and it’s a conversation this committee should be having,” Mullica said.

He said there is a “strong chance” he won’t support the bill when the committee votes on whether to push it through.

1,799 overdose deaths

Harm reduction experts claim that overdose prevention centers effectively reduce the risk of overdose and public drug consumption. The centers sometimes offer resources to connect people who use drugs to treatment and counseling.

Opponents, however, view the centers as doing little to address the opioid crisis while making it easier to consume illegal drugs.

Last year, 1,799 people in Colorado died from a drug overdose.

The committee has met several times this summer to learn about the scope of the substance use disorder problem in Colorado and consider the current mitigation resources. Lawmakers on the committee have heard from a wide range of presenters, including state health department officials, law enforcement, health care providers and people with lived experience.

In addition to the overdose prevention center bill, the committee voted to draft bills under the broad umbrellas of prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery. All five bills will be drafted and polished before a September 27 meeting to consider public comment. The committee will then vote at the end of October on which bills to recommend for Legislative Council approval and introduction next session, which starts in January.

If the Legislative Council does not sign off on a bill a committee sends to it, a lawmaker can decide to run that bill independently.

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