The memorial wall at the Harm Reduction Action Center is overflowing.
Hundreds of photos of Denverites lost to overdose create a patchwork of loss that winds around windows and above doorways. Executive Director Lisa Raville works every day under the gaze of these sons, daughters, siblings, parents and friends, people of all ages and backgrounds whose tragic deaths were entirely preventable.
While overdoses have been a problem for decades, the influx of fentanyl and other life-threatening compounds has caused overdose deaths to skyrocket in recent years.
In November of 2018, Denver City Council voted 12-1 to pass an ordinance that would create the City’s first Overdose Prevention Center (OPC), a medically supervised facility that allows the consumption of pre-obtained drugs under hygienic and low risk conditions.
But more than four years and 1,400 overdose deaths later, there is still not an OPC in the Mile High City.
“The time for this is yesterday,” stressed Raville. “Overdose Prevention Centers keep people alive. How can we help people if they’re no longer with us?” The Harm Reduction Action Center, a fixed site that provides syringe access, education and services, is set to serve as Denver’s first OPC pilot, a natural extension of the services it currently provides.
For a Denver OPC to open its doors, there needs to be a change to state law; that has been the hold up over the past few years. A new bill was just introduced by Representative Elisabeth Epps, which would enable Colorado cities to determine for themselves whether or not to allow OPCs to operate in their individual communities. The proposed bill will not ask for state funds nor any changes to current Colorado drug laws. Despite its simplicity and the abundance of evidence that shows that OPCs save lives, the bill is expected to be controversial.
WellPower is among dozens of organizations and businesses in support of a Denver OPC pilot. Why? Because they are proven to:
- Reduce Overdose Deaths. Trained staff at OPCs monitor drug use and can respond quickly to any overdoses that occur, significantly reducing mortality rates from overdose. OPCs offer testing of the unpredictable street drug supply to detect deadly adulterants like fentanyl.
- Improve Access to Treatment. People who inject drugs are more able to build relationships with care providers at OPCs, resulting in increased entry into detox and other services.
- Decrease Transmission of Disease. Hepatitis and HIV infection rates are reduced in areas surrounding OPC programs, in some areas by up to 86%.
- Not Increase Crime. OPCs do not increase drug use or crime. In some areas, drug-related crime has actually decreased following the opening of an OPC.
- Save Money. The costs associated with treating disease, overdoses and other downstream impacts of addiction are significantly higher than the cost of OPCs. Utilization of emergency services is also decreased by OPCs, representing significant cost savings to taxpayers.
- Reduce Public Impact of Drug Use.People in communities surrounding OPCs report witnessing fewer instances of injecting drug use and reduced presence of used needles in public places.
- Reduce Harm to Police Officers & Other First Responders. Police officers have a 33% chance of sustaining a needle stick injury over their careers. Fewer used needles in public places and in the possession of people who inject drugs decreases the risk of needle sticks by first responders.
If you would like to learn more about the Harm Reduction Action Center, visit https://www.harmreductionactioncenter.org/. Please help spread the word about how OPCs can save lives and watch for updates on the Overdose Prevention Center bill in upcoming editions of our Report to the Community.