Colorado has a great opportunity to improve the health and protect the safety of its citizens, but it is slipping away because of fear and ignorance.
By ignorance, I don’t mean stupidity. I mean people not knowing the truth. Much of this is because conservative talk radio hosts have been spreading untruths (lies). KNUS has a document on their site that says:
We believe these drug consumption sites or “Safe Injection Sites” …
- …encourage drug use and normalize the problem.
- …create a safe haven for drug users, peddlers, and predators.
- …have not been properly funded. In spite of claims to the contrary, it is not clear how these sites will be funded.
- …will compromise law enforcement’s ability to properly enforce current laws and empower users to ignore law enforcement efforts.
Smart public policy should be guided by research, not by unfounded beliefs. In fact, research shows that safe consumption sites like the one proposed for Denver:
- reduce overdose deaths: a 35 percent decrease in overdose mortality in an area within 500 meters of the facility
- increase the likelihood of people getting into treatment and recovery and stopping IV drug use
- save money – about $5 for every $1 spent
- reduce HIV infection
- reduce ambulance calls
- reduce the number of discarded dirty needles in the community
- reduce violence against women who inject drugs
Opponents to safe consumption sites say they don’t believe the science. Scientific research today is done with extreme rigor and without bias. Before research is published, extensive review by other experts occurs to make sure the science is valid and without bias. Even the editors at Scientific American have reviewed the evidence on safe consumption sites and have stated that these sites save lives. To discount this evidence and oppose safe consumption sites is simply unethical and immoral.
Let me make it very clear that all experts in the addiction field recognize and agree that addiction is a disease. It is not a moral failing. Neuroscience has shown that neurologic changes in the brain increase the compulsion to seek reward and decrease our ability to make rational decisions. Saying that a person with addiction chooses to use drugs is similar to saying someone with depression chooses to be depressed.
As a Christian, I would also like to express my dismay that this legislation is opposed by other Christians. When Jesus was asked how we can obtain eternal life, he answered the we must love God and love our neighbor. He then used the story of the Good Samaritan as an example of how we love our neighbor. We are to go out of our way and put ourselves at risk to help those in need.
For my Christian brothers and sisters, I implore you to disregard the advice of the talk radio host who is telling you to walk by our neighbors in need. Instead, let us stop and share our love.
Some are concerned that safe consumptions sites are against federal law. While that is a legitimate concern, that has not stopped Colorado in the past as is evidenced by the legalization of marijuana.
I am saddened that our legislators are backing away from this opportunity to lead our country in progressive legislation that protects our most vulnerable.
Make no mistake, inaction will cause people to die. Our legislative process should not be driven by emotion or fear. It should be driven by what is best for Coloradans based on the best science and information we have available.
How many more of our sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers must die? Providing a safe-consumption site is smart. It’s loving. It’s safe. It’s “pro-life.” It’s cost-effective. It’s American. This is what we do as Americans. We help our neighbors and fellow citizens in need.
Don Teater MD, MPH is a Colorado resident and a Family Physician. He now specializes in the treatment of pain and opioid use disorder. To read his policy brief on safe consumption sites, go to his website: teaterhs.com/policy-development.