Different views on the Denver drug injection site debate

People express their views on a proposed supervised drug injection site near the state Capitol in Denver on Jan. 21.

A Colorado bill to allow safe injection sites for drug users isn't likely in the 2019 session, House and Senate Democrats said on Tuesday.

The proposal has been floating around the state Capitol since 2017, when an interim committee approved a measure for a pilot program that would set up a supervised injection site in Denver for users of illegal intravenous drugs.

At the site, trained personnel would be on hand to help drug users avoid overdosing and to steer them into treatment programs.

The 2018 measure to set up that pilot -- Senate Bill 40 -- died in a Senate committee in February.

But in the past year, there has been a lot of action on the topic outside of the state Capitol. The Denver City Council passed an ordinance in November that would have set up the pilot, the first in the nation. But that ordinance still needs action by the General Assembly to start it up.

Democratic Sen. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood was one of two expected Senate sponsors of a safe injection site bill, along with Republican Sen. Kevin Priola of Henderson.

Pettersen had said the site likely would be located at a needle exchange program on East Colfax Avenue across the street from the Capitol.

But the proposal, which never made it into an introduced bill, drew strong objections from Republicans, including House Minority Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock.

In an interview with Kyle Clark of 9News last month, Neville called the proposal "a horrendous idea" and equated the creation of a drug injection site to "having a separate lane for those who choose to drink and drive."

Neville also had threatened to launch recalls of the Democrats who favored the idea, but not of Republican Priola.

"I’ve talked with many concerned parents, and with people who live and work downtown, who didn’t want injection sites,” Neville said Tuesday in a written statement to 9News.

“I was actually very concerned about the school groups visiting the Capitol that would have to walk past these sites,” Neville said. “Heroin injection sites are not the safe or compassionate path for Colorado.”

"It's a desperate attempt to regain power," Pettersen told reporters Tuesday in describing the bill's opponents. "They see this as an opportunity to stigmatize the most vulnerable and create fear about Democrats being in control" of the House and Senate.

"I'm unwilling to give them a political platform," she said.

Pettersen has been open about her mother's struggles with substance abuse and has long backed legislation to address the opioid crisis. But it led to negative mailers in the 2018 election, including a flier from her Republican opponent, Tony Sanchez, which claimed Pettersen would allow those with drug addictions to shoot up on Lakewood's city streets. That mailer drew criticism (and votes and campaign contributions for Pettersen) from Republicans. 

The greatest barriers those with substance use disorders face, Pettersen said, is stigma. She raised concerns that if a supervised injection sites bill passed, the site would become a target for fearmongering.

"It's political theater and devastating" to people like her mother, she said.

In the House, however, Democratic leaders said they believed the measure was losing support among Senate Democrats and that Denver's efforts to be first drew too much backlash from the public, the U.S. attorney and the federal government.

House Majority Leader Alec Garnett of Denver told reporters Tuesday that Denver's "eagerness drew negative attention" that whittled away its support.

In December, U.S. Attorney for Colorado Jason Dunn and the Drug Enforcement Administration warned that such a proposal was illegal and that it would create a public safety risk.

Earlier this month, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit against a nonprofit organization that seeks to open a supervised injection site in Philadelphia.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock at first signaled support for establishing a safe injection site, but later seemed to back away from the proposal in a 9News interview.


> WATCH: Different views on the Denver drug injection site debate

> WATCH: GOP House leader Neville calls drug injection sites 'a horrendous idea,' threatens recalls

> WATCH: Denver drug injection site would likely go next to Capitol, lawmaker says

> WATCH: Denver Mayor Hancock walks back support of drug injection sites

> Feds question Denver's drug plan

> Denver OKs drug injection sites

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