Safe Injections Sites Denver
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(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Lisa Raville, executive director of the Harm Reduction Action Center, is shown outside the safe injection site across Colfax Avenue from the State Capitol on Nov. 27 in Denver. Once users get a clean needle, they now have to leave the center, which is across the street from the state Capitol, and usually wind up injecting drugs in nearby alleys and streets, she said.

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The Denver City Council has overwhelmingly approved a pilot program to allow drug abusers to shoot up under supervision. But the pilot program still needs the help of the state legislature, which convenes for four months starting in January.

Denver is aiming to become the first U.S. city to allow sanctioned, supervised use of heroin, methamphetamine and other illegal drugs.

The council passed an ordinance 12-1 on Monday night to set up an injection site as a pilot program aimed at steering users into treatment. More immediately the sites are supposed to curb overdose deaths and prevent the spread of diseases through shared needles.

Democrats in the statehouse have taken the lead on often bipartisan efforts to curb the state’s opioid crisis, but injection sites are controversial.

On Election Day this month Democrats retained the governor’s office and expanded their majority in the House, while seizing the majority in the Senate, as well. In the last session, the Republicans in the Senate squashed legislation to allow just that, Senate Bill 40, even though it was sponsored in the chamber by Sen, Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs.

Polis hasn’t taken a position on injection sites yet, his spokesperson told Colorado Politics Tuesday.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock applauded the city’s vote.

“Like cities across the country, Denver is seeing significant numbers of people dying each year of drug overdoses,” he said in a statement.

He said there were still “legal details to work out,” but he supports the bill approved by the council and looked forward to signing it.

Hancock said he was hopeful the General Assembly would get on board.

“Denver has taken this step, and we look forward to a continued partnership with the state legislature in addressing the opioid crisis and exploring changes to state law to allow for innovative solutions to this statewide problem,” he said.

Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, a state House member who was elected to the Senate in November, has led the Democratic charge on opioid addiction programs in the statehouse. She and state Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, traveled to Vancouver in Canada to learn about supervised injection sites there.

Pettersen told the Associated Press Tuesday that she is confident the legislature, in Democratic hands, would support the pilot program.

“This is about keeping people alive today and ensuring they get the help they need tomorrow,” she told the AP.

Contact Joey Bunch at or follow him on Twitter @joeybunch.

Colorado Politics senior political reporter

Joey Bunch is the senior correspondent and deputy managing editor of Colorado Politics. His 32-year career includes the last 16 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and he is a two-time finalist.

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