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State Senators Push For 'Harm Reduction Facility' Bill

By Jamie Leary

DENVER (CBS4) - State Representatives Leslie Herod and Brittany Pattersen, both Democrats, are pushing ahead with legislation that would allow for a supervised heroin use facility.

Democratic Senators Leslie Herod and Brittany Pattersen (credit: CBS)

"We are just trying to create a space where people can be overseen by health professionals so that they don't die today - bring them out of the shadows and increase the likelihood they will be seen," said Pattersen.

SB18-040, Substance Use Disorder Harm Reduction, would create a supervised injection facility pilot program in the city and county of Denver and would provide civil and criminal immunity for the facility. The proposed bill is modeled after similar facilities across Canada and Europe.

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Vancover, Canada (credit: CBS)

Herod and Pattersen left for Vancouver Thursday where they toured three supervised injection facilities.

"It's inspiring to see what happens when a community comes together to ensure that people struggling with opioid addiction don't needlessly die and have access to a wide range of services," said Herod. "It's not just about having medical professionals on site ensuring that users don't overdose, it's also about having access to healthcare, detox, screenings, and referrals to treatment for those who are ready to move toward recovery."

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A supervised injection site in Vancover. (credit: CBS)

Insite is one of the facilities Herod and Pattersen visited. It's North America's first legal supervised injection site.

Over the past six years, it has seen 4 million people and had no deaths. The facility says it operates on a harm-reduction model, which means it strives to decrease the adverse health, social and economic consequences of drug use without requiring abstinence from drug use.

The bi-partisan bill, sponsored by Senators Cheri Jahn and Kent Lambert and Rep. Johnathan Singer, will head to the State Affairs Committee on Feb. 5. So far, it's been a hard sell.

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Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (credit: CBS)

"I don't see much hope in this bill," said Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling. "I struggle with any aspect that tries to create a safe haven so you can do illegal activities which actually harm people."

Sonnenberg sits on the State Affairs Committee and while he has not discussed the bill with other committee members, he says his vote is a "no."

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(credit: CBS)

Sonnenberg is not a stranger to the opioid crisis. He lost a friend to a heroin overdose and while he also wants solutions, doesn't like the idea of supervised use.

"I think we need find ways to get them help rather than the ability to drugs in a safe place," he said.

While the bill has some tough critics, both Herod and Pattersen have had family members struggle with heroin addiction. They know how to fight tough battles.

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(credit: CBS)

"If we don't pass this and we don't create these opportunities they are going to continue to use in bathrooms, in alleyways," said Pattersen.

"What we're doing to fight this epidemic is not working. Opioid overdoses are now the number one cause of accidental deaths for people under 55 in the U.S. It's essential that we look at creative, and sometimes uncomfortable solutions to address this public health crisis at every level," said Herod. "Vancouver was able to greatly reduce the number of people dying from overdoses, eliminate the need for people struggling with addiction to use in bathrooms or alleyways, and connect Canadians with the help that they desperately needed.  I hope we have the same opportunity to do that for Coloradans."

Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015 and currently works as a reporter for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. She couldn't imagine a better place to live and work and will stop at nothing to find the next great story. Jamie loves learning about and hearing from her fellow community members, so connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.

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