Recently, the American Medical Association (AMA), Colorado Medical Society (CMS) and Manatt Health released a new publication, Spotlight on Colorado: Best Practices and Next Steps in the Opioid Epidemic. Colorado is one of four states nationwide being profiled in this series. Framed in terms of notable best practices and identifying opportunities for additional progress, the report offers an interesting overview of some the strides that Colorado is making in the face of the overdose crisis. Yet some additional victories and imminent headway on the local harm reduction front are conspicuously missing from the analysis.
While the report discusses some of the commendable and far-reaching work of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and rightly highlights naloxone availability in Colorado, for example, it does not focus on the integral contributions of the Consortium’s Harm Reduction Work Group. Formerly called the Naloxone Work Group, this small but intrepid band of advocates and service providers is largely responsible for outreach efforts about overdose prevention and naloxone availability throughout the state. Their awareness-raising has engaged medical professionals, especially pharmacists who play a key role in offering naloxone to those who need it, and laypeople who are often in the best position to help in an overdose. The website StopTheClockColorado, a project of the group, is a wealth of lifesaving overdose prevention and response information featuring an interactive map of pharmacies that provide naloxone to Coloradans without a prescription.
Furthermore, the new report is also oddly silent on one of Colorado’s most exciting, emerging harm reduction frontiers: supervised consumption services (SCS). This area of advocacy is certainly evolving but hardly new to the Centennial State.
Over the past several years, Drug Policy Alliance has proudly worked in coalition with the Denver-based Harm Reduction Action Center and other allies on the Colorado SCS Campaign. Our goal is to take the next step in public health-based drug policy by establishing SCS and creating legally sanctioned facilities designed to reduce the health and public order issues often associated with public injection.
In 2018, groundbreaking legislation was introduced in the Colorado General Assembly to create a supervised injection facility pilot program in Denver. That proposal was unfortunately defeated in committee, but having it under consideration in the Colorado Capitol for the first time was a promising victory. Dozens of proponents testified in support of the bill with only one individual offering opposition.
Only months after that disappointing vote in the legislature, undaunted advocates presented an ordinance before Denver City Council to allow for a pilot supervised use site (SUS) contingent on the passage of statewide legislation. Backed by the mayor and championed by an intrepid city council member, the ordinance passed by an overwhelming 12-1 vote. With introduction of the corresponding bill imminent in the 2019 legislative session that convened this month, we are closer than ever to establishing supervised consumption services in Colorado.
It seems especially curious that the AMA/CMA/Manatt report fails to mention SCS not only because it is a widely publicized and popular prospect in Colorado, but also because both the AMA and CMA have endorsed the Denver campaign. The CMS website explains:
“Colorado Medical Society supports the establishment of a pilot supervised injection facility that will be objectively evaluated to assess effects on those that are addicted to injectable drugs, local communities, and society at large as part of a comprehensive strategy to combat the effects of the opioid abuse crisis in Colorado."
Despite the lack of attention to the issue in the new report, local advocates are appreciative of the support that the AMA and CMA are providing to the SCS movement and optimistic about the future. "We are so pleased to see the health care community support harm reduction measures in the midst of this overdose crisis,” says Lisa Raville, Executive Director of the Harm Reduction Action Center. “Harm reduction services are just another aspect of comprehensive health care, so these partnerships are so vital in supporting the health and well-being of people who use drugs. ”
We look forward to including the establishment on SCS on the list of successes in future assessments of Colorado’s response to the overdose crisis.
Amanda Bent is a Colorado policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance.