When an overdose crisis began to take shape in Denver, Colorado, one of the places the city's leaders sought answers was north of the border.
Coun. Albus Brooks says he boarded a plane to Vancouver last year before drafting a recent proposal to open what could become the first legal supervised consumer site in the United States.
"I personally went to meet council members, the police chief, community members, business people – I interviewed them all," he said.
"Denver Health Paramedics, which responds to almost all 911 medical calls in Denver, uses naloxone up to three times a day." Look this, @ AlbusBrooksD9 ! Thanks as always, @RobValuck! https://t.co/2yaGbFBNLY
– HRAC (@HRAC_Denver) December 21, 2018
Last month, the Denver council approved a proposal for a two-year pilot project allowing a safe place of consumption, which allows people to use drugs under the supervision of trained employees in response to overdose.
The program needs to get approval from the Legislative Assembly, which is now under Democratic control after the November election. Earlier this year, the state Senate controlled by Republicans killed similar legislation.
Other US cities, including San Francisco, Seattle, New York and Philadelphia, have also expressed interest in opening up supervised injection sites. California lawmakers approved a measure that would protect workers and participants from a San Francisco pilot program against prosecutors, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it in September.
Brooks said the Denver board analyzed models in hundreds of other jurisdictions and also visited Barcelona. But it took several lessons from Vancouver, including the effectiveness of the free drug test and the importance of working across all sectors and with many stakeholders.
He said he was impressed by the high number of overdose deaths in Vancouver, which was the epicenter of the crisis in Canada, but also the general consensus on the importance of harm reduction as part of a continuum of care that has been more difficult to catch up. in the United States.
The BC Coroners Service reported 369 Vancouver overdose deaths last year, while Denver recorded 163 drug-related deaths, according to Colorado's vital statistics program.
"Everyone seemed to say that harm reduction models were effective and an important part of a global strategy," said Brooks. "This is not understood in the United States."
Support was not universal in Canada as well. When Insite opened in Vancouver in 2003, becoming the first safe drinking place in North America, some argued that it would only allow addicts. And recently in August, the progressive conservative government in Ontario, under the command of Premier Doug Ford, announced that it was suspending the opening of new overdose prevention sites, awaiting review.
But the data suggest they were effective. According to the BC Center on Substance Use, a systematic review of 75 peer-reviewed journals on safe drinking sites found that no overdose-related death was reported on a site involved in the studies.
A 2011 Vancouver study also found a 35% decline in overdose deaths in the area around Insite, the center said.
Although the BC Coroners Service does not collect data on "life-saving" measures, spokesman Andy Watson said he believes significantly more people would have died in the crisis had it not been for harm reduction services.
"We understand that the death toll is likely to triple, based on information we get from other agencies," he said.
Insite has been a popular destination for Canadian and American politicians considering the model, with visitors also coming from Seattle, said Carrie Stefanson, a spokeswoman for Vancouver Coastal Health, which manages the site with PHS Community Services Society.
"They come in a kind of fact finding mission or a tour. We have people coming all the time, "she said.
Sarah Blyth, who heads the Overdose Prevention Society in Eastside town center, said it can be impressive to receive so many visitors. There are almost every day visits of politicians, grassroots organizers, nurses, students and others curious about the model – from places as far away as Belgium and France and as close as other cities B.C.
"It's a little too much to be honest, but at the same time it's very important because they bring back education and what we're doing elsewhere," Blyth said.
"And we can discuss how useful it is and answer questions about how you can do this: how easy it is, accessible and not difficult to do."
Amy Smart, the Canadian Press
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