Supervised-Use Sites & the Opioid Crisis
Nationally, people are now
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 voted no on the proposal for a supervised use site after closely reading numerous reports and studies on other sites around the world. I found while there were available sources for snapshot-type evaluations, the literature was lacking in meta-analysis that could provide conclusory evidence that SISs were effective overall in reducing overdose deaths and reduction in addiction levels when compared with other, broader methods that have, in contrast with SISs, been significantly more effective. Most compelling was the fact that in Vancouver, Canada, to which our proposal was most closely compared, the number of overdose deaths has continued to climb and set records in spite of the operation of the SIS there for the past 15 years.
I found there was sufficient reason to doubt the efficacy of the SIS model, especially when other cities have successfully reduced overdose deaths in other ways, through widespread community distribution of naloxone/Narcan kits. By getting the antidote into the hands of families of People Who Inject Drugs (PWID), to get the antidote out to where people are actually dying, cities like Dayton, Ohio, have made a large reduction on deaths. In Denver, more than half of overdose victims injected and died in their homes.
Finally, the most urgent need in addressing the opioid crisis is to expand the capacity of our detox and rehab programs. A constituent of mine confided in me that she had just arranged to place her adult son in a treatment program, at a cost of $25,000, and that she was working all her days off as a waitress to help pay for it. It had been too long a wait. She begged me to vote no on the SIS bill, saying her son never would have bottomed out and agreed to her help if he knew there was a place he could maintain his addiction within an illusory bubble of protection.
When we are looking for a road that takes us out of the crisis, I concluded that SISs were in fact a traffic circle that allowed PWID to keep revolving without exit. I was highly concerned that the bill on which I voted no chose to follow the road on which Vancouver has continued to set higher and higher records of overdose deaths, and not the road on which Dayton has reduced such deaths by half. It gave me serious pause that this SISs are the wrong direction.
We must expand treatment capacity so when people are ready to choose to get out of addiction, there is immediate room for them at a reasonable cost.
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 support a comprehensive overhaul of our system of pre-trial incarceration, including potentially ending cash bail in favor of a system of rigorous evaluation of defendants that determine their suitability for release, including GPS monitoring and check-ins. I do not believe we can make the change without first carrying out a comprehensive study of our current practices, alternative methods for determining risk, and projecting the outcomes. Ending cash bail, some experts believe, could result in higher incarceration rates or more racial profiling in the process of determining who to release. It is not something that should be done without having a robust reliable system to replace it.
It is something that we must evaluate, because the current system is weighted in favor of those with money and against those without. There is no need to continue holding many of the people now in our jails for minor offenses simply due to the lack of $100 or some other amount when there is little to no risk to the community of a swift pre-trial release.
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?
Yes and Yes.
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?
The appointment of the 13-member board (five of whom will be appointed by those of us on the city council) must immediately determine the priority spending areas for this new funding. I will urge that board to focus on the opioid and drug crisis, as a potentially powerful fulcrum to leverage improvements in mental health and substance abuse. That in turn is a high causative factor in homelessness. The funding tree should then move on down to directly provide robust mental health and substance abuse recovery treatments, followed by housing and wraparound service to combat homelessness.
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?
The city needs to modify the layouts of our shelter system and provide other services such as lockers for people who have day jobs, around-the-clock access so that people who work late can return after usual hours, accommodations for people who have pets, and for couples. Denver already is planning to move in this direction, including new rules for addressing the cleaning of public encampments that are part of the settlement of a class-action lawsuit against the city. A key to implementing the new $45 million in resources through Caring4Denver is to defeat Initiative 300, which I call not the “right to survive” but the right to surrender to hopelessness. The initiative, while well intentioned, goes significantly further than trying to reverse the violation of property rights in enforcement of the urban camping ban; it establishes a civil right to establish a permanent domicile in public spaces, discouraging pathways out of homelessness and treatment for mental health or substance abuse issues. It would stand in the way of outreach and ultimately create severe public health crises in our overburdened public realm.
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?
Yes. We need to bolster our recycling program, invest in public transit powered by renewable energy, and focus on protecting and expanding our open spaces.
I stand with Healthier Denver and pledge to hold my elected officials accountable for prioritizing my health and the health of my neighbors.
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