Amanda Sawyer – Healthier Denver

Amanda Sawyer

Running for: District 5
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?

While I am compassionate to the issues people suffering from addiction face, and while I support finding different ways to eliminate the opioid crisis in Colorado, the residents of District 5 have made it clear that they do not support supervised use sites at this time. That said, our state government needs to lead on this issue. I would like to see what legislation our state government proposes before committing to supporting safe injection sites in Denver and how the success of the program would be measured. We are concerned about having these injection sites in our neighborhood and near our schools. Upon a bill from the state legislature, I will thoughtfully look at all options to reduce opioid addiction in our state and our city and collaborate with the people who live in our neighborhoods to determine whether this is the right choice for Denver.

Cash Bail

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 recognize that cash bail is a huge barrier for many inmates and would absolutely support ending cash bail in Denver. According to research I’ve done to educate myself on this issue, up to 70% of people in US jails are preconviction – meaning that they are there because they cannot afford to pay their bail but they have not yet gone to trial. ( These are people who cannot work, cannot care for their families, cannot pay their rent, etc. because they cannot get to jobs while stuck in jail awaiting trial. That said, alternatives to cash bail are extremely expensive, and that is a big problem in a state where our tax structure limits funding availability. Without some sort of collateral held, the incentive for people to show up for their trials is significantly less. I look forward to talking with all stakeholders and learning about what other revenue streams might be proposed to fund the necessary support systems that inmates would need to help ensure they show up for trial without a cash bail system.


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 am willing to support raising the minimum age to 21, and I am willing to raise taxes on these products. Some people are going to choose to use nicotine products even though they are aware of the negative effects. Denver does a good job of providing smoking cessation education and supports, and I therefore don’t have an issue or concern with raising taxes on these products. Additionally, making it more difficult for kids to obtain cigarettes is an active solution to keeping them from starting to smoke in the first place. I support it. That said, I would like to know more about the specifics of what kind of licensure requirements would be exacted before I could answer the question about licensing in detail, and I would like the opportunity to present it to my constituents for their feedback as well.

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?

Opioid and other substance abuse programs are woefully underfunded in Denver and that is where we should focus the majority of the funds administered through the Caring 4 Denver initiative. Additionally, we should focus on suicide prevention programs and supports for teens in Denver. Suicide is an epidemic. I have lost friends to suicide, so I know firsthand the emotional toll it takes on the friends and family left behind. We need to be doing so much more for people experiencing mental health issues than we are currently, and the biggest part of that is fighting against the stigma associated with it. By focusing funding on teen suicide prevention and substance abuse programs, we will be able to make a significant difference in the lives of people in Denver struggling with mental health issues.

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?

We need to bring and long-term thinking to the homelessness crisis in Denver. That means we need to stop trying to manage homelessness and start looking for ways to end homelessness. When people have the security of a home, they are in a better position to pull themselves out of homelessness and find a good paying job. The first thing we need to recognize is that there are numerous reasons why people experience homelessness, and many reasons why they may not choose to go to a shelter. For example, some don’t pursue a shelter because they want to remain with their spouse, or their kids, or their animals. For some, it’s the result of substance abuse issues. There are even a few for whom it’s a choice. Most importantly we need to be sure that the product we are offering fits the needs of our community. Are there enough beds for families in shelters? Are there shelters that allow animals?  Are we asking too much of our homeless population with mental health issues to stand in crowds waiting to get a spot in a shelter? We need to look at the barriers to entry of our shelter system and see how we can eliminate them. That is the most significant thing we can do to assist people experiencing homelessness at this time.

Climate Change

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 support the City’s 80×50 Climate Action Plan and I believe there is so much more we can do to achieve it.  We need to invest in electric vehicles for our City now – not just for police and fire, but for all City vehicles. We need to invest in mobility infrastructure so that we’re giving people safe options for ways to get out of their cars. We need to look at revamping our public transit system so that residents have safe, clean, reliable access to public transportation. And those are just the big changes. There are numerous small things we could be doing as a city as well. For example, the fact that Denver wasn’t recycling its coffee cups until recently is just shocking. The fact that we only pick up recycling every other week is ridiculous. We could require paper straws. We could do a much better job of promoting the Denver Digs Trees program so that our tree canopy remains when Ash Boor decimates much of our current tree population. There are so many more options that we could pursue that   would help protect Denver’s air, water and the public health of all the residents of Denver. We just need people in office with the political will to start making these changes.