Colorado is one step closer to becoming the second state in the nation to legalize “supervised drug consumption” sites, also known as safe injection sites or overdose prevention sites, as labeled in Colorado’s House Bill 24-1028.

After two fouled attempts to sway the Colorado Legislature that these sites will curb the state’s overdose crisis, harm reduction advocates persuaded a majority in the House Health and Human Services Committee to pass the bill on a 9-4 party-line vote.

These sites are illegal under federal law; the bill, however, appears poised to pass the House in the same party-line fashion.

While persistence may be on the proponents’ side, the facts, when thoroughly considered, are not in their corner.

Bill advocates use a sole metric of “effectiveness” to support their claim that these sites will reduce overdose deaths. 

In the North American communities where these sites have been piloted, including Vancouver, British Columbia, San Francisco, and New York’s Harlem neighborhood, there are virtually no reported overdose deaths on the sites themselves. Conveniently omitted is the data showing that drug overdose rates have soared in the communities surrounding the pilot sites.

In Vancouver, where the normalization of such behavior over 20 years is likely to have had some effect, deaths due to illicit drug toxicity have risen by 840% since its first site opened in 2004. Heroin possession and trafficking incidents increased by nearly 170% from 2004 to 2018.

Still, a more thorough look at the overdose death rate should not be the sole metric used by the Colorado Legislature to evaluate comprehensive effectiveness.

One consideration is whether these sites reduce overall harm to a person struggling with addiction.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies addiction as a medical condition, a brain disease that needs treatment.

San Francisco’s site experiment revealed that “revived” drug abusers often continue to take the drugs and overdose. There are documented cases of the same person being revived from an overdose more than 30 times, making them further subject to toxic brain injury, according to the Brain Injury Association. Repeated drug abuse destroys frontal lobe tissue, the source of motor function and judgment, and can lead to further injury to the brain, including hypoxia or brain anoxia, in which the body forgets how to breathe. Enabling the disease is hardly a benign effort.

Further, legislators should evaluate the impact on the surrounding neighborhoods. The neighbors of the sites in Harlem reported an uprising of drug markets where dealers have unlimited access to customers. At the same time, Harlem’s children are forced to navigate used syringes along the sidewalks. In San Francisco, the neighbors endured a similar experience, which led the city to shut down the site within one year of operations.

The linking of site visitors to treatment programs must also be considered. In Vancouver, less than 2% of the site visitors access treatment of any sort. In the San Francisco pilot program, it was less than 1%. Notably, the site operators in Harlem don’t measure this indicator.

Finally, Colorado legislators must consider last week’s bipartisan repeal of Oregon’s Measure 110 by its Legislature. In 2020, Measure 110 was overwhelmingly passed by Oregon voters, who were told that the decriminalization of drugs would “reduce stigma” and reduce use for those struggling with addiction. In three short years, Oregon is now one of the nation’s leaders in addiction and overdose death rates and now has the second-highest increase in homelessness in the country.

More than 1 in 10 Coloradoans struggle with addiction — one of the highest rates in the nation. Colorado’s homeless population grew by nearly 40% in 2023 over 2022. Colorado can ill afford another public policy experiment that rejects recovery and restoration that is not only possible for the individual struggling with addiction but also necessary for a functioning society.

Colorado lawmakers must serve as the backstop to this failed policy. They must look through the portal of experience versus through the narrow lens imparted by the bill’s authors to see the broad implications to all Coloradoans if HB 24-1028 were to pass.