Supervised-Use Sites & the Opioid Crisis
Nationally, people are now more-likely to die from an opioid overdose than from a car crash. In Colorado, opioid-related deaths have tripled in the past fifteen years, and Denver’s rates of opioid- related deaths are markedly higher than that of the rest of the state. Last year, Denver City Council authorized a pilot supervised-use site, which would provide a safe space with trained professionals and medical supplies for people who use drugs but aren’t yet in recovery. Such sites are proven to drastically reduce harm and prevent death by overdose. They provide a pathway to recovery and there has been a positive association between using a supervised use site and starting in addiction treatment.
Do you support the continuance of the city’s plan to open a supervised use site in Denver (pending state legislation)?
In addition to your support or opposition of supervised use sites, what are your plans to address the opioid crisis in Denver?
I am 100% in support of our plan to open a supervised use site in Denver. In fact, I was the sole sponsor of the legislation at the city level. I am deeply disappointed that the State didn’t take it on this session, and I believe that shows a lack of leadership. In 2017, overdoses from opioids were the 2nd leading cause of deaths in the City of Denver. We need to do more to destigmatize addiction – there’s a fundamental difference in the approach to addressing this public health crisis when we see view people as “neighbors experiencing addiction” instead of simply “addicts.” More than 72,000 families lost a loved one to an overdose in 2017, and it is the second leading cause of death in Denver. Colorado had 1,012 drug overdose deaths in 2017 alone, up from 912 the year before. Behind every statistic is a story. Beside every loss is a family in lament.Supervised Use Sites prevent deaths and provide a pathway to recovery, and are a part of my commitment to a 3-pronged approach: prevention, treatment, and harm reduction. I was a part of the group pushing the Mayor to establish Denver’s first 5-year plan to combat the rise of opioid addiction in our city, and I will continue to work in this area with the goal of serving our neighbors experiencing addiction.
When people are accused of a crime, they often spend extraordinary amounts of time in jail because they are not able to afford and quickly pay even low amounts of bail. The longer a person sits behind bars, the higher their chance of experiencing physical and mental health issues due to inadequate care is. Additional consequences can include loss of employment and/or housing. The bond industry further exacerbates the health effects of the cash bail system by exploiting low-income people and people of color, adding stress and fear to an already difficult situation, and worsening the inequitable negative mental and physical health outcomes of the accused.
Do you support ending cash bail in Denver? Why or why not?
What other policies would you pursue to reduce the detrimental health effects of the existing criminal justice system?
I strongly believe that we need to immediately end cash bail for low-level offenders (under $500), and then implement a full overhaul of the cash bail system in Denver. The cash bail system is predatory, ineffective, and poor attempt at building a just system; we have many people overnight in our jails because they’re unable to produce $50, $100, or $150 – this costs taxpayers funds that can be used to build an inclusive city, and this is ultimately a form of punishing the city’s poor. What makes the overhaul somewhat complex, however, is that there are often individuals that are present a risk or danger to the community and we want them to be held in custody until their case can be heard. Cities all across our great nation are looking at criminal justice reform strategies that we have begun addressing: sentencing reform, expunging records for those with marijuana charges, and working on pretrial services so defendants aren’t simply taking plea deals that ruin their ability to thrive in our city. I am fully committed to working with young boys of color and reducing recidivism rates by investing in programs once young people get out of the system; providing re-entry services and support for them to be integrated into society is a part of my vision for an inclusive city. Compassionate criminal justice reform means humanizing offenders and providing opportunities at the city level that make it easy for them to have a better shot at a second chance. That is why I support requiring city programs and projects to provide hiring and training pathways for those with felonies.
Tobacco & E-Cigarettes
Colorado’s kids use e-cigarettes at twice the national rate and 91,000 of our youth will die prematurely from the health effects of tobacco. Annual health care costs in our state from the effects of smoking are $1.89 billion. Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disability in Denver. There are a number of proven ways to stem the tobacco and e-cigarette crisis: licensure of tobacco and e-cigarette sales, increasing taxes on those products, and raising the age of purchase to 21 are some the most effective.
Do you support raising the age of purchase to 21 for cigarettes and other tobacco products such as chewing tobacco?
Do you support enacting licensure requirements and increasing the taxes on tobacco and nicotine products for the city of Denver?
I enacted the “Breathe Easy Campaign” on the 16th Street Mall because it is our most populous area in the city, and many young people were utilizing this city asset as a place to hang out and smoke. Not only is this bad for the city, but it’s incredibly unhealthy for our young people. Since the campaign and passing of the ordinance, we have seen a dramatic drop in use around the mall. That being said, I am still concerned for the wellbeing of teenagers across the city. I fully support raising the age of purchase to 21 for cigarettes and tobacco products that are targeted explicitly to teenagers, however I believe that this will introduce a black market element which is also unsafe. The city must use its power and influence to spread proactive public messaging about this public health issue. I am also supportive of enacting licensure requirements and increasing the taxes on certain tobacco and nicotine products that are the most harmful to young people. A truly inclusive city is one that looks after the health of its youngest members, and we must not overlook the long-term danger that prolonged tobacco use brings to the human body. A thoughtful combination of messaging and regulation can literally save lives.
Mental Health Care
The need for improved mental and behavioral health care in our city is vast: 20 percent of Denverites deal with a daily mental health or addiction issue. In Colorado, suicide is the leading cause of death for those between the ages of 10 and 24 and 1-in-8 Denver Public School students have seriously thought about suicide. Currently, only 40 percent of people with daily mental health or addiction issues receive adequate care. Recognizing the severity of the issue, Denver voters in 2018 overwhelmingly passed Initiated Ordinance 301, also known as Caring 4 Denver. The 0.25 percent sales tax will fund mental health services, facilities, suicide prevention, opioid and substance use prevention, first-responder training, and more.
A to-be-determined nonprofit organization will be administering the Caring 4 Denver funds. How would you prioritize utilizing the funds to address mental and behavioral health and addiction needs in the city of Denver? What can the city do beyond Caring 4 Denver to address these issues?
First, I should note that I am still elated that Caring 4 Denver passed with such overwhelming support and vigor in the November 2018 election. One of my neighbors still has their Caring 4 Denver yard sign up, and it makes me proud of our city every time I drive by it and am reminded of the compassion of our voters. Mental health is something that is a seriously overlooked issue at the state and federal levels, and we simply do not have the proper funding in our cities to address this pressing need. These dollars need to be focused on those who are homeless and experiencing addiction, because our federal government is failing to fund homeless housing and addiction services at the level that is required to see true transformation. An inclusive city takes care of its most vulnerable members, and mental health challenges are the invisible war that residents are battling across the city, often in silence – and often with grave consequences. We must leverage these funds with our housing fund to build stable environments that are linked to compassionate services.
Individuals Experiencing Homelessness
In Denver, the number of individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness between 2015 and 2018 has increased 58 percent – from 827 to 1,308 people. Unsheltered means persons not in places meant for habitation, i.e. streets, bridges, abandoned buildings, and outdoor camps. Moreover, 30 percent of the Metro Denver homeless population reported experiencing chronic homelessness. The City of Denver is seeking solutions to assist individuals experiencing homelessness in our community that strike the right balance between housing options, shelters, and resources for these individuals to transition into a stable environment long-term.
How do we best serve the needs of people who are experiencing homelessness in Denver? What specific policies would you pursue and/or ordinances would you modify?
This is one of the most pressing issues facing our city, as we decide how to provide the proper programs and care for those experiencing homelessness while also addressing macro-economic issues such as housing affordability and wage stagnation. A compassionate, inclusive city is one that doesn’t discount the realities of the most vulnerable by allowing them to be ignored and stepped over. That is why I think it is critical that we build upon the model we currently have in Denver of improving our shelter system, creating additional transitional housing, growing our voucher program, and continuing to provide long-term housing solutions and wrap-around services.
Colorado is facing disproportionate effects of climate change. Here in Denver, we are seeing substantial increases in the number of days each year topping 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Those temperatures exacerbate illnesses like asthma and cardiovascular disease, cause earlier snow melt, increase ozone pollution, and worsen long-standing water supply problems. The city has created the 80×50 Climate Action Plan, which highlights key strategies in the three sectors most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions in the city: buildings, transportation, and electricity generation. Denver’s long-term greenhouse gas reduction goal is to reduce emissions 80 percent below 2005 baselines levels by 2050. Today, many clean energy technologies, such as wind, solar, and battery storage, are available.
Do you support the city’s 80×50 Climate Action Plan? What additional policies or practices should be implemented to protect our air, water, and the public’s health?
I am very proud to support the 80×50 Climate Action Plan. The often-overlooked component of addressing climate change is land use; one important tool in our toolkit is density, and thoughtful urbanization. This means building urban cities around planned transit hubs (Transit Oriented Development). When we promote good density and build communities where the shared rhythms of neighbors are in close proximity to one another, we waste less resources and live more thoughtful lives. Urbanism brings conservation, and specifically addresses buildings, transportation, and electricity generation.