01/02/19 Doug McVay

This week on Century, we hear portions of a debate in the Denver City Council on a measure to establish a safe consumption space in the city of Denver. Hosted by Doug McVay.

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Wednesday, January 2, 2019
Guest: 
Doug McVay
Organization: 
Drug War Facts
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CENTURY OF LIES

JANUARY 2, 2019

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

The city of Denver, Colorado, is moving closer to becoming the first city in the United States to open a supervised injection facility. The Denver City Council voted in late November to approve a resolution to set up a SIF as a pilot project, pending approval by the state legislature. On today’s show we’re going to hear portions of that city council debate.

In this segment, the first voice you hear will be that of Denver City Council President Jolon Clark. He introduces the first speaker in that debate, also the only opponent on the Council, Council Member Kevin Flynn.

JOLON CLARK: Madame Secretary, please put the next item on our screens, and Councilwoman Kniech, will you please put Council Bill 1292 on the floor?

ROBIN KNIECH: Yes, I move that Council Bill Twelve -- 18-1292 be placed upon final consideration and do pass.

JOLON CLARK: It has been moved and seconded. Questions or comments by members of council? Councilman Flynn.

KEVIN FLYNN: Thank you Mister President. Yes, I called this out as I did last week, because I intend to vote no on it again, and I want to just explain a little bit about the week between last Monday and today, and I said last week that this is probably the most difficult vote I ever faced up here in the three plus years, because of the very serious life and death issues that it involves, that don't usually attend to our normal business.

Over the intervening week, I've heard from numerous constituents, some of whom have stopped me, actually my wife and me at a restaurant over the weekend, a woman who just put her son into drug rehab at a cost of twenty-five thousand dollars, who begged me not to vote for this because of her fear that had there been such a site available to her son, he might not have chosen to go into rehab when he did.

Whether that's true or not, that's what she believed.

So I voted last week against it, and I intend to vote no also, and I wanted to explain a little more. We like to make data driven decisions, and in this as with a lot of our issues, there's a lot of data available, but it's raw data, some of it's not sliced and diced and analyzed very -- very usefully for us.

It's not, you know, a good regression analysis would really help here, to say, to help us know whether these facilities around the world are actually reducing the opioid crisis when it's occurring in an atmosphere where there's other factors that are creating a surge in deaths and a surge in usage.

It's hard to know what is the right path forward, and so we like to think that data tells us what to do, it leads us in a certain direction, and a lot of times that's just not so. There has to be human judgment. If data alone could tell us what the right thing to do is, you wouldn't need thirteen of us up here, you could just feed it into a computer, and it would tell you what the right policy choice is.

Don't get any ideas about that, by the way, about replacing us with a computer.

But there has to be human judgment that is applied to this data, and so I want to say at the outset, Mister President, that I have great respect for every single one of my colleagues who voted the other way last week and who will vote that way tonight, because they've applied their judgment as well to the facts, and have reached what I consider an equally valid course of action to do, and it's just not one that I can -- that I can personally support.

But I do want to say that I have great respect for the judgment that my colleagues have applied to this, but I also want to say that my judgment on this is that it's not the path that I think this city ought to be taking, to establish a designated area where dangerous drugs, illegal drugs, heroin, can be consumed.

I don't make this judgment based on any inaccurate reading of the data, nor out of any pretense that it's not occurring on our streets or in our allies or in our parks. I have it in my own district, I'm fully aware of this, and I -- as I said last week, I've had several overdose deaths just within a stone's throw of my office in Bear Valley.

So I'm fully aware that this is happening on the streets. I've simply concluded that a supervised injection site isn't the way to combat the crisis. I think it enables it without reducing it. This is a two year pilot program. We end the two years with, let's say there are no overdose deaths as we fully expect, because I don't think there's been one in any of these facilities around the world.

So what's the end game? Does that mean, Mister President, that we will then put a facility such as this in every district in the city? Or everywhere where we've experienced opioid deaths? Is that the way to really prevent the deaths, is to put these safe injection facilities elsewhere in the city if this pilot program proves successful?

I believe though if we want to be more effective, instead of establishing a safe use site, I think we should follow the lead that the state of Utah has taken, and that is with a very robust distribution, free distribution of naloxone, of Narcan kits, to the communities that are affected by this, to the providers, to nonprofits, to family members, family members whose sons, brothers, sisters, daughters, mothers, are struggling with addiction.

Provide them, and prevent the deaths where they're occurring and don't expect them to come down to a single site, but go out to the bike paths and the parks, and the library, and the public restrooms, where we know, where we've had these things occurring, and I think that would be much more effective. I could fully support a program like that.

You know, it's been stated that addiction is a disease, not necessarily a crime, but the addiction itself is a disease, and we don't criminalize a disease. Cancer patients don't have to do chemo in an alley. But then again, this isn't treatment. A safe injection site is not treatment. It's like bringing a lung cancer patient into a smoking room and giving him more cigarettes. This is not treatment.

If this bill offered more in the way of an aggressive path toward treatment, and resolving the addiction for the individual client, I could be more supportive of it. But a supervised injection room enables continued addiction and not treatment, and for that reason, reluctantly, after weighing all of the options, reluctantly, Mister President, I have to vote no.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Kevin Flynn, a member of the Denver City Council. His was the only no vote on a measure to approve a pilot program for a supervised injection facility in the city of Denver.

Next up, Council Member Wayne New.

WAYNE NEW: I also love to hear from my constituents as well, on all the key issues that we face in Council I normally survey my constituents, and I did on the supervised injection site as well.

I had 665 of my constituents in District Ten responded, just wanted to share a little bit of their data with you.

What was their feeling about reducing drug deaths and combating illegal drug use as a priority for the city? Over 76 percent of the residents who responded said yes, it is a priority, reducing deaths as well as fighting drug -- illegal drug distribution.

Do you support the supervised injection site in Denver? Fifty-six percent of my residents that responded said yes, we do support the drug addiction center.

The question is, in addition, should we wait until -- should we make sure that Colorado approves such a program as we submit our program? And that's what the plan is, that Colorado will need to pass that legislation first.

The last thing that he mentioned, in addition -- that Councilman Flynn mentioned, in addition to the self injection site we need to do more in terms of treatment centers. Treatment is, if we were able to help these folks get off of drug use, where they do not have to use a self injection site, that will be an incredible goal for everybody.

So we want to make sure that there's treatment facilities, and I've received this assurance from the chief of police, that there will be no reduction in combating illegal drug use, drug sales, we'll still have a robust effort to make sure that illegal drug sales will be combated in the city. So, I'm pleased with that.

I do hope that Denver Health will be a part of this program down the road as it comes forward and it passes, and from a community health standpoint, they are a valuable partner, and I hope they'll play a vital role in this program.

And I do like the pilot project. My constituents said over and over in this, make sure that the metrics for evaluating this program are meaningful, that you actually can see how effective this program is, so, and treatment -- treatment facility referrals, obviously, is an important metric too.

So, I just wanted to share the results from my constituents. I'll be supporting this tonight, and just wanted to let you know how they felt about it.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Denver City Council Member Wayne New. He was speaking in favor of a measure to set up a supervised injection facility in the city as a pilot project.

You are listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay. Now, here’s Denver City Council Member Paul Lopez.

PAUL LOPEZ: Thank you, Mister President. I'm very supportive of this. We're not going to arrest ourselves out of the problem. Jail is not going to be the cure for addiction, and it isn't.

Anybody who understands this issue and understands the population, understands addiction, understands what folks go through when they're addicted, the process that it takes, the amount of resources. If we could have it our way, I know that we'd fund it left and right, but it's not just up to Denver, it's also up to the state.

There are so many systems that are failing that whole treatment model, that are not addressing it, the hours are not there for folks sometimes, their hours are very limited. There are stigmas associated. There are so many different factors outside that need to be addressed.

In the meantime, while we're debating in government about what to fund and whether we're going to get mental health dollars or treatment dollars for a model like this, people are dying, and people are dying, they're overdosing, they're doing it in areas where they're not being found, where there's nobody around them to save their life, to give them a dose of Narcan, or to even talk to them.

This model allows for that interaction to happen, because if not, it's not going to -- it's not going to prevent folks from -- it's one of very many tools. One of very many tools that can be employed, that can be used to address the addiction issue.

And the last thing you want is to not support something like this, and know that the person who is ODing in a park, your neighborhood, your neighborhood store bathroom because they're -- that's the only place that they can be. Right?

Knowing that that can happen, and knowing how you're voting right now, I'd rather have that option for someone to be there and not be alone, to have -- to talk to somebody, but then to make sure that they -- what they're doing is being supervised, and can potentially save their life.

And I think that's something, and that's also an entryway to services. Right? This is a professional. These are area -- these are people who know what they're doing, and it's an opportunity for folks to interact that way, and could save some lives.

The last thing I want to say is that, you know, when we think about this, and we think of the folks on the other side, oh, all you're doing is enabling. You're not enabling. You're being there as a supervisor, to make sure that they're not killing themselves.

Oh, you're not -- why not just treatment? Well, treatment's very expensive. Yes, we'd rather have treatment, but not everybody has the access to treatment. It's not that simple, and it's not an either or. It's not supervised injection sites replacing treatment. This is just another tool, and another tool for a society that still doesn't know how to address addiction.

In a country that still is in the stone ages when it comes to addressing addiction. We have to look around the world for these models. You have to look at these other cities, and they are doing it right, and sometimes, you just employ that, and by doing that, you've got to remove your fear, you've got to deprogram everything you've thought of to be an addict, remove that fear, and look at this person as a human being, and the end goal is saving their life.

That's what this bill allows Denver to do, should the state act. So, I, Councilman Brooks, folks at the harm [reduction] center, thank you for your work. Thank you all for bringing this to us. I know this would be historical if we were to pass it.

But I want folks to get out of this mindset that oh, this is scary, this is just a bunch of folks shooting up and we're enabling them. No. And this is replacing other treatment? It's not. This is another tool that we need to treat addiction.

So, thank you. I support this wholeheartedly, Councilman.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Denver City Council Member Paul Lopez. He was speaking in support of a measure to allow the city of Denver to set up a supervised injection facility.

You’re listening to Century of Lies. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Supervised injection facilities, or SIFS, also called safe consumption spaces or overdose prevention sites, are proven harm reduction interventions that save lives, improve public health, and enhance public safety.

They prevent overdose deaths because trained healthcare professionals are on hand to reverse opioid overdoses. They increase the safety of drug users through drug safety testing to identify contaminants and unexpected substances.

Cities around the country, cities around the world, have unsafe consumption spaces already. It's the alleyways, it's the doorways, it's the public restrooms. Those unsafe consumption spaces already exist, and that's where people die.

Supervised injection facilities, safe consumption spaces, these places work. People survive.

Now, let's get back to that Denver City Council meeting. Let’s hear from Denver City Council Member Paul Kashmann.

PAUL KASHMANN: As I said last week, I'm -- we know people are dying on the street. Letting people die in our restaurant bathrooms, and doorways, and our parks, and our trails, behind trees, and wherever, it's not reducing the opioid crisis. Okeh?

I have a letter from a constituent today, an email, and he said, well, what's going to be next? Are we going to have government sponsored locations where alcoholics can go to drink their booze?

We have it now. They're called bars.

Well, think about it. They're called bars, and we license every last one of them. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of places to get alcohol in Denver. We continue to license them. Now, not everybody who walks into a bar is an alcoholic. But, thousands and thousands and thousands of them are, and all we do is we keep serving them.

We pat them on the back and we send them out into the night. No one gives them a brochure that says hey, here's where the local Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is. Or here's a place you can go to get treatment if you're having trouble.

As I read the bill for a proposed site, and all the discussions I've heard, is as is the case with the Harm Reduction [Action] Center, when people come in to get clean needles, they're offered help. They're counseled on where they can go. They're not just sent off into the night with a wink.

So, if we're serious about addressing addiction in this country, at some point, we need to look at the fact that the Super Bowl is sponsored by Budweiser, and our baseball team plays in Coors Field.

You know, I don't know if we're ever going to get the stomach to look at the alcohol industry, but people are -- I understand the concern with drug addiction. Absolutely. It -- we need to cut it back. We're talking about Vision Zero for traffic deaths. We need a Vision Zero for drug deaths as well.

But as a society, we haven't made that commitment, and it's about time that we do, so I will also be supporting this wholeheartedly. Thank you, Mister President.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Paul Kashmann, a member of the Denver City Council, speaking at a meeting in late November in support of a measure to open a supervised injection facility in the city of Denver as a pilot program.

Mister Kashmann made some excellent points. Something that I’ve been harping on for a very long time is our society’s hypocritical relationship with alcohol. Alcohol is a drug, it’s addictive, and it’s dangerous. In addition, there’s no question that alcohol use contributes to antisocial behavior and violent crime. Alcohol is one of the biggest drug problems that our society faces.

And yet, we can’t even acknowledge that alcohol is a drug. Which reminds me: the National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week is an annual event sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It’s a propaganda exercise with events and webinars targeting young people, specifically middle school and high school students along with some college kids.

This year, drug facts week is January 22 through 27, with an online chat day on January 24. You can find more information at drugabuse.gov. Social media hashtags are #NDAFW and #DrugFacts.

Well, here’s a question for NIDA: For decades now, everyone involved in substance use treatment and prevention has used the term Alcohol and Other Drugs, AOD for short. So why does NIDA persist, with its misnamed event, in promoting that false distinction between alcohol and other drugs?

Another question for NIDA: Stigma is one of the biggest problems facing people who use drugs, it's one of the biggest barriers to treatment, it's one of the worst stumbling blocks when it comes to recovery.

So why do we criminalize people who use drugs by criminalizing simple possession? Why do we add to the stigma by criminalizing drug use? Everyone admits that we can’t arrest our way out of drug problems yet we still treat drug use as a crime rather than a health issue.

Indeed, in this Denver City Council debate and other venues where supervised injection facilities have been discussed, the main objection seems to be that people would be allowed to use the facility without first pledging to quit immediately after.

Opponents seem to be saying they’d be okeh with a SIF if the people using that service would just go in and use it one last time, then immediately stop using drugs and go straight into treatment.

You know, just stop, because quitting opiates and other drugs is so easy for people, you know, especially for people without stable housing. They’re using alcohol and other drugs to stop the pain, to cope, and so what happens when you take away those substances yet the circumstances in which they live remain unchanged?

Let’s do something that works instead. Reduce the harm. Keep people alive. Treat people with respect and dignity and affirm their humanity. Build trust so people who have been alienated from and brutalized by society can come forward and get the care they need.

You can find data and statistics regarding safe consumption spaces, heroin assisted treatment, and other harm reduction interventions on the Drug War Facts website at DrugWarFacts.org. With direct quotes, complete citations, and links to original source materials wherever possible, DrugWarFacts.org is your premier source for information on all things related to drug control policies.

And remember, National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week is January 22 through 27. If you have kids or know kids in high school, make sure they know that URL, it’s DrugWarFacts.org. Share it on social media, hashtag #NDAFW #DrugFacts.

So, while I climb down from my high horse, let’s get back to that Denver City Council meeting. We'll hear from one more Denver City Council Member, Mister Albus Brooks.

ALBUS BROOKS: Yeah, thank you, Mister President, and I want to thank all of my colleagues for their diligence and hard work in this, and I want to thank all the folks in the audience for being engaged and supporting this effort as well.

This is an ordinance that allows for a pilot in the city of Denver, with the General Assembly's approval, and -- for a supervised use site. And how I got to this point, I had a councilperson say, you know, where's the data? Where's the information? How do you -- what's the work that you've done?

Let me give you a number. Over 25 years, over 60 cities, ten countries, and over a hundred sites. That's our data. We actually have the information that shows us that this innovative idea that started over 30 years ago works.

But in our context, in this American context, it's so hard to wrap our mind around, and I understand that, and I get that. But, the fear mongering and the talking down to our neighbors, who are experiencing addiction, I've heard it all day today. I think it's ridiculous, and it's actually disgusting.

These are our neighbors, these are folks all over the world who are struggling with this. And we have an opportunity to address it.

Let me also say, we one hundred percent support the Mayor's plan to address the opioid crisis in the city. He released a plan from 2018 to 2022, it's three prongs, guys. It's prevention, it's treatment, and it's harm reduction. And one of the strategies is this supervised use site.

So let's not get stuck on this being just the one answer, like Councilman Lopez says, there's several strategies that we're working on.

And so I'm excited to support this, and I'm excited to have Denver lead boldly in this area. It's a big moment for our city, and as this Council approves this, and it gets sent to the Mayor's desk to sign, there's a couple things from my heart that I just want to say.

This is more than just public policy. This is about enacting justice in the city of Denver.

There is a national health crisis in front of us, and cities are on the front lines. Philadelphia, New York, Portland, just heard Portland, Maine, now is starting to move forward on this. Seattle, Los Angeles, there are so many cities that are trying to move forward with this issue.

And tonight, we act to save lives and repair families. And this is a beautiful moment for our city, to form a healing union with our state legislature and governor elect, because this is what it comes down to.

When we view people simply as addicts, we rob them of their humanity, and it becomes easy for us to stigmatize their struggle and ignore their pain. This ordinance is not about addicts. This is about our neighbors. This is about our neighbors experiencing addiction.

When we see people as our neighbors, we see their stories, and they become deeply connected with us. And that is how we save lives, and that is why we are here tonight. And with that, Mister President, let's vote on this thing.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Denver City Council Member Albus Brooks. He was speaking in support of a resolution to allow the city of Denver to open a supervised injection facility.

After Council Member Brooks spoke, the Denver City Council voted.

JOLON CLARK: Seeing no other comments, Madame Secretary, roll call.

COUNCIL SECRETARY: Flynn.

COUNCILMEMBER FLYNN: No.

COUNCIL SECRETARY: Black.

COUNCILMEMBER BLACK: Aye.

COUNCIL SECRETARY: Brooks.

COUNCILMEMBER BROOKS: Oh yeah.

COUNCIL SECRETARY: Espinoza.

COUNCILMEMBER ESPINOZA: Aye.

COUNCIL SECRETARY: Gilmore

COUNCILMEMBER GILMORE: Aye.

COUNCIL SECRETARY: Herndon.

COUNCILMEMBER HERNDON: Aye.

COUNCIL SECRETARY: Kashman.

COUNCILMEMBER KASHMAN: Aye.

COUNCIL SECRETARY: Kniech.

COUNCILMEMBER KNIECH: Aye.

COUNCIL SECRETARY: Lopez.

COUNCILMEMBER LOPEZ: Aye.

COUNCIL SECRETARY: New.

COUNCILMEMBER NEW: Aye.

COUNCIL SECRETARY: Ortega.

COUNCILMEMBER ORTEGA: Aye.

COUNCIL SECRETARY: Susman.

COUNCILMEMBER SUSMAN: Aye.

COUNCIL SECRETARY: Mister President.

COUNCIL PRESIDENT JOLON CLARK: Aye. Madame Secretary, please close the voting and announce the results. Are we missing ... ? Missing a couple. Anybody?

COUNCIL SECRETARY: We've got 12 ayes and one nay.

COUNCIL PRESIDENT JOLON CLARK: Twelve ayes, one nay, Council Bill 1292 has passed.

DOUG MCVAY: Twelve to one in favor, the Denver City Council approved Council Bill 18-1292, a bill for an ordinance authorizing a supervised use site pilot program contingent upon the state General Assembly passing legislation authorizing the operation of supervised use sites in the state of Colorado.

There’s still a long way to go, yet the Denver City Council’s vote moves us quite a ways forward. Heartfelt congratulations to the people of Denver and all the harm reduction activists who worked hard to get that bill on the agenda and approved, and to the city council members who made it happen. You’re heroes.

And well, that's it for this week. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs, including this show, Century of Lies, as well as the flagship show of the Drug Truth Network, Cultural Baggage, and of course our daily 420 Drug War News segments, are all available by podcast. The URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power.

You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back in a week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.