Second try at overdose prevention centers could allow pilot program in Colorado cities
An interim committee in the Colorado Legislature could recommend a bill for consideration next year that would establish a pilot program to allow overdose prevention centers to operate in certain areas of the state.
Under a draft bill from the Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Study Committee, the pilot program would end in 2028, potentially creating a way for centers to operate for over three years if the Legislature passes the bill and it goes into effect next year.
If the bill moves forward, it would be the second year in a row lawmakers consider letting overdose prevention centers, sometimes referred to as supervised injection sites, open in the state. These sites would be a place where people could use illegal drugs and, if necessary, be treated for an overdose from trained professionals. While the bill from the last legislative session called them overdose prevention centers, the current draft refers to them as “harm reduction centers.”
Harm reduction refers to a practice aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use, such as HIV contraction and overdose. The Harm Reduction Action Center in Denver — which does not allow illegal drug use on its campus — provides to people who use drugs items like sterile syringes, fentanyl testing strips, overdose reversal drugs and hygiene products.
The pilot program described in the draft bill would apply to areas of the state that have received municipal authorization for operation of the sites, such as Denver, which approved the idea in 2018. The Legislature would be able to extend the program past 2028 if it wanted to.
Nearly 2,000 people died in Colorado from a drug overdose in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So far this year, 341 people in Denver have died from an overdose. Experts say that as fentanyl becomes present in more of the drug supply, the risk of overdose increases.
Additionally, the bill would create a nine-member advisory board to recommend to the state’s health department minimum standards for the operation of the centers. It would consider topics like the proper disposal of needles, the recovery of people who use the centers, liability protection for participants and laws that impact the potential operation of harm reduction centers.
The board would comprise the attorney general, someone who represents a statewide medical society, someone who represents a statewide hospital association, a member who represents the Colorado chapter of a national society of addiction medicine, and five members appointed by the governor: someone with a substance use disorder, someone working in overdose prevention, a current or former law enforcement official, a representative of the Colorado Municipal League, and someone who has overdosed or has a family member who died of an overdose.
The draft bill is similar in some ways to successful legislation in Rhode Island. In 2021, the state approved a two-year pilot program for harm reduction centers with an advisory board. The first center in the state is expected to open next year.
During a Wednesday committee hearing, state Rep. Elisabeth Epps, a Denver Democrat who sponsored last session’s unsuccessful overdose prevention bill, said she is not completely satisfied with how the Rhode Island model would apply to Colorado. Still, she wants the bill to have enough support to make it out of the interim committee and onto the desks of legislators next year.
“I want it drafted however it can get out,” she said. “I want whatever gives us a chance to say yes — to doctors and nurses and health professionals and other people who have been doing the frontline work for years to save our neighbors’ lives.”
Committee members will need to vote to advance the bill — along with four others they are considering — to the Legislative Council, which will then decide whether to approve it for introduction and the normal legislative process next year. The Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Study Committee’s next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 30.
Here is the bill draft:24-0317_Harm Reduction Centers