02/18/18 Doug McVay

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An effort in the state of Colorado to prevent overdose deaths suffered a setback in the Colorado Legislature on February 14. The Co Senate's State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 40, Substance Use Disorder Harm Reduction. The measure was not approved and has been postponed indefinitely. Experts in public health and public safety along with people who have lost family members to overdose and others who are concerned about the community testified overwhelmingly in support of Senate Bill 40. On this edition of Century of Lies, we hear from some of them.

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FEBRUARY 18, 2018


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 Colorado State Senate was considering Senate Bill 40: Substance Use Disorder Harm Reduction. It would have allowed communities in Colorado to decide whether they wanted to have a pilot project setting up a safe consumption space, what's called a supervised consumption room or supervised injection facility, a place basically where people who are using drugs could go and have medically trained personnel on hand in case there was an overdose, because street drugs are so frequently contaminated these days with fentanyl, and even when they're not there are other drugs involved.

If you haven't heard of the overdose crisis yet, then you really haven't been listening to the news, and, welcome to Century of Lies. We have a lot to talk about, so let's get straight to it. The Colorado State Senate's State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 40 on Valentine's Day, February 14. We're now going to hear some audio from that hearing.

First up, José Esquibel, Director of the Office of Community Engagement for the Colorado Attorney General.

JOSÉ ESQUIBEL: My name's José Esquibel, I serve as the direct Director of the Office of Community Engagement in the Colorado Office of the Attorney General. I'm here on behalf of that department, and the Colorado Attorney General's Office. I also serve as vice chair of prevention for the Colorado Substance Abuse Trend and Response Task Force, a legislatively mandated task force which is chaired by the Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman.

I also had the privilege this summer to serve as a co-chair with Doctor Valuck as a task force of the interim study committee that you heard about, by the sponsors. And, that group, a remarkable group of stakeholders and legislators that passed this bill through this committee on a bipartisan vote.

The Office of the Attorney General is in support of this bill.

Now, unfortunately, I've been in this business a long time. My career has spanned almost 40 years as an addictions counselor, as a substance abuse prevention person working with kids and schools, and now at the state level, and I certainly wish we weren't at this place in our society, where we have this type of a crisis around opioids.

But we're here, and so you're undoubtedly aware from what we're seeing in the press that we have reached crisis levels in the United States and in Colorado, and that the problem has been worsening in recent years, particularly with the increase of access to heroin.

Now, we are fortunate in this state that we have really come together well in terms of a state coordinated response through the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, through the task force that we work with, and now working with local communities. We're pretty well connected, got our finger on the pulse of what is happening, not only in terms of the trend that we're seeing with the use of opioids and abuse of opioids, but also the solutions and what needs to be done.

Now, in April of 2017, a work group of the Consortium issued a report titled Heroin In Colorado: A Preliminary Report. And the report includes the results of a very remarkable survey of people with an opioid use disorder. This included responses from 439 former users of heroin, people who are still alive, and 73 individuals who reported being active users of heroin, for a total of 512 individual respondents, mainly here in the metro area.

Here's what they informed us:

70 percent of these individuals indicated that yes, prescribed opioids played a role in their decision to use heroin. So we've created a problem, just from that particular practice.

71.9 percent reported that injection use is their method of choice for heroin use.

46 percent reported paying for heroin using legal income, through some means of employment. This goes to your point, Senator, that we have a changing demographic in terms of people who are using this drug. People who actually go to work every day.

70 percent indicated they had been in a situation where someone else had overdosed on heroin, that they were with someone who overdosed on heroin. Seventy percent.

193 respondents indicated they had witnessed an average of three overdoses, and many times these overdoses are occurring in public places, such as our public library or restaurants or businesses. We're in the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis. It's essential to examine all possible options to mitigate and reverse this problem.

Now, one thing this bill does, and I apologize for my time, but through an exemption of the state nuisance law, this bill supports a local control decision to allow a community to make a determination about a new way to reduce overdose deaths, reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis, and assist injection users of heroin in accessing treatment.

There are provisions in this bill that require local input and approval by local government before a clean syringe exchange program can be used, but in addition to this, it's important to understand that there is a cost.

President Trump has prioritized the opioid crisis in his budget. Recently, November 2017, the president's Council of Economic Advisers released a report titled The Underestimated Cost Of The Opioid Crisis.

The report begins by saying the Council finds that previous estimates of the economic costs of the opioid crisis greatly underestimates the cost by undervaluing the most important component of the loss, which is fatalities. They give a 2015 total cost to United States, due to overdoses, at four hundred thirty one billion dollars.

CO STATE SENATOR VICKI MARBLE: Mister Esquibel, you've gone over time by quite a bit. Would you be able to wrap up and we'll probably get to you with questions.

JOSÉ ESQUIBEL: Okeh. Yes, I am. So this high cost to us, in terms of the overdose deaths, will continue if we don't do something to mitigate the deaths themselves. Now, it is possible that a prevention site, that prevents overdose, could potentially drive some of those costs down for local community, and I'll just conclude with three terms here: Local control, preservation of life, and no appropriation of state funds for a program that could save lives. Thank you for your consideration.

DOUG MCVAY: That was José Esquibel, Director of the Office of Community Engagement for the Colorado Attorney General.

Next, let's hear Robert Valuck, PhD. He's a Professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of Colorado and Director of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention.

ROBERT VALUCK, PHD: My name is Rob Valuck, I'm a professor of pharmacy at the University of Colorado and the Director of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, a statewide organization of over 500 stakeholders from all major state agencies, health and public health professionals, treatment intervention, prevention, and recovery support organizations.

We are funded with funding from the federal government, the state as of last year, local foundations, and others. We see ourselves as the largest broadbased support organization to try to address the opioid crisis in Colorado.

We're here today to offer our strong support for Senate Bill 40, amended as L002 in the [unintelligible] language, speaking specifically to that, and believe it's a critical piece of a very large puzzle to try to address this problem.

As you have heard, and correctly so, it's a complex issue, and as we try to ratchet things down on the prescribing end, the Consortium's working on provider education with the medical society, for example, and we've trained over 2,000 doctors online, another 900 doctors in person in the last year and a half to address issues of better prescribing.

We're doing things with public awareness, safe disposal, increasing access to treatment, all sorts of things to try to address this in a comprehensive way, obviously a very difficult thing to do.

In the meantime, we have a lot of overdoses happening among injection drug users. Heroin overdoses were 228 in 2016, another 49 from fentanyl in 2016. So these are large numbers. And until we're able to build treatment capacity and get people into treatment, which we need to do, we need to keep people alive, and that's why we're here. It's very simple. The objective for this kind of thing is merely to keep people alive.

We view this bill as a very narrow, local control enabling piece of legislation to help hard hit areas, whether that's Denver, or Pueblo, or Alamosa, or La Junta, people that I talk to from all 64 counties in this state have this issue, and to give them one more option to address this problem in their local community if they choose to do so.

The -- as amended, this bill does not create a pilot. It does not require one. It does mandate one. It only helps address some facility seizure questions that local governments have asked the state to address before they go to the next step and consider whether to do something like this on their own.

So we strongly support the bill as amended. We believe the list of supporters is very long. The process for generating and vetting the idea was very good, and the evidence behind this is actually more solid than you may have heard prior.

Cost effectiveness estimates from Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, using relatively recent data, especially in Boston, show even the medical offset to be cost savings at $2.33 to a dollar put in. If we're even able to stop wound care needing to go to an emergency room, that's a positive benefit. Even on those, these things save money. We think this is something that Colorado should consider and act on promptly.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Professor Robert Valuck at the University of Colorado, he's Director of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention.

Next up, we have Joelle Fairchild. Joelle is a Coloradan whose son died from heroin overdose.

JOELLE FAIRCHILD: I'm Jeolle Fairchild, and I'm a grieving mother. My life forever changed on Wednesday, October 22, 2014. To most, this was probably just another uneventful day, but I will never forget this day, because this was the day that my only son Tony died of an accidental heroin overdose.

His lifeless body was found leaning against a tree on the Cherry Creek Path. It was an unusually warm fall day in Denver, so there must have been hundreds of people who ran, biked, or walked by his dying body.

Only one very kind man took the time to call 911. But too much time had passed to try to save Tony. As you can imagine, the loss of my only child shook my faith in humanity, but one thing that keeps me going is to try to put an end to stories like mine, and Tony's.

Parks, alleyways, and bathrooms should not be places where people in our communities are faced with finding lifeless bodies succumbed to overdose. Please open your hearts and listen to the stories of everyone in this room, pleading to stop unnecessary deaths from occurring in public places. Let's make Colorado the first state to provide a safe, nonjudgmental facility that offers a chance to save a precious life. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Joelle Fairchild, a Coloradan whose son died from a heroin overdose. She's testifying in favor of Senate Bill 40, on Substance Use Disorder Harm Reduction, which would have allowed communities in the state of Colorado to decide whether they wanted to set up a pilot project of a safe consumption site.

Now, let's hear from Becca Wesselman, a Coloradan whose son died from a heroin overdose.

BECCA WESSELMAN: My name is Becca Wesselman. Today's Valentine's Day. Two years ago, on the day before Valentine's, we held my son's memorial service. Ian was 26 years old when he died of an accidental heroin overdose. He died alone.

He lost his battle with addiction. We lost our son. My daughter lost her only brother. We all lost our future with him, but he lost everything.

On November 21, 2017, just a few months ago, the president's commission on combating drug addiction and the opioid crisis released a one hundred page report and offered recommendations. This is just a few pages of it

In their letter to president Trump, the committee stated, and I quote: "Our people are dying. More than 175 lives are lost every day. If a terrorist organization was killing 175 Americans a day on American soil, what would we do to stop them? We would do anything, and we would do everything. We must do the same to stop the dying caused from within." End quote.

I found this 175 astounding, but that's what that report said. A hundred and seventy five deaths per day. Numbers are important. We're -- sorry, I'm very nervous. This is a very personal issue for me as I'm hoping it's not for a lot of people in this room.

This is my little boy. Behind each person, there's a -- there's a -- behind each number there's a person, and we talk about these numbers, and we talk about the faces of addiction. This is the face of addiction. This was my son.

We need to put this disease, this face of addiction, in front of everyone's view. People are not their addiction. People are not disposable. Every life matters. So what are we going to do, what's the solution?

In the meantime of finding the solution, we have what is called harm reduction initiatives, like needle exchange programs and safe injection facilities. These can save lives. These can prevent serious disease from spreading, and they have been proven to reduce harms of drug misuse and reduce the number of overdose deaths.

How can we put a financial number on lives? I don't have the statistics in front of me, I don't have the reports, but I've done a lot of reading and research. There are programs that are working, and it's my understanding there has never been a single death on the safe injection program. Whether or not they're dying when they leave, that's another issue, but that, I think is critical.

So I encourage you to support Senate Bill 40. Safe injection facilities can and do make a difference between having someone there to help you if you overdose, or being alone where no one can help you, like my son was.

This is a life or death matter. Part of what safe injection facilities also do is encourage people to seek treatment. Studies have shown that addicts who visit safe injection sites are more likely to try and get help as a result of being at that site.

If you have nothing to take away from today, take this away: Take away the stories of all the loved ones who've been lost to heroin overdose, to any opioid overdose, and remember, there is actually something we can do. We can do it now. I urge you, be open to the data that is available, and acknowledge that are possible to help our community, and those struggling with addiction, and I hope you never have to be on this side of this bench. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Becca Wesselman, a Coloradan whose son died from a heroin overdose. She was testifying in favor of Senate Bill 40. You're 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 Colorado Legislature was considering Senate Bill 40, on Substance Use Disorder and Harm Reduction. The Colorado Senate's State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee held a hearing on that bill on February 14. We're listening to some of that testimony.

Now, let's hear from Amelia Long. Amelia is a Coloradan in recovery.

AMELIA LONG: My name is Amelia Long, and I represent myself, as well as numerous friends of mine in recovery, and those who are still using.

Good afternoon, madame chair. I don't know how --

CO STATE SENATOR JERRY SONNENBERG: Close enough, it's okeh. It's okeh.


CO STATE SENATOR JERRY SONNENBERG: I appreciate the respect. Thank you, that's fine. Do not worry.

AMELIA LONG: And members of the committee. I am a -- sorry. I am -- thank you for letting me speak today on behalf of Bill SB 40, Senate Bill 40. Sorry, I'm nervous.

I am a survivor in recovery from years of intravenous heroin and cocaine abuse. Throughout my experience as a needle user, it was not common for myself or those around me to have sterile syringes to inject with, whether reusing our own dirty needles or each others.

I want you all to know that this is not something any of us wanted for ourselves, and with more availability to supplies, I am sure that myself and my friends would have been in better health throughout our addiction.

For those plagued by the disease of addiction, each day is spent poking ourselves with dull points, creating open wounds and infections, and more often than not being subjected to life threatening diseases such as HIV and hep C.

I believe that the communities of Colorado would greatly benefit from opening more needle exchange locations, and I would strongly encourage you all to consider the idea of an overdose prevention site.

I cannot tell you the number of times myself and those I used with in my past were left with no option but to use in public restrooms, portapotties, in our vehicles, under bridges, in parks, and alleyways, anywhere outdoors despite the weather, and no matter where the location I can promise you it was not a safe place, and there was no one around to look out for our lives besides each other.

This is life and death every single day for each and every addict. I have had to save more than five of my friends from overdoses with Narcan as well as having my own life saved by friends several times. But I have lost many, many more friends than I have -- than have been saved from overdoses.

I cannot say -- oh. I cannot say it enough. This is an issue of life or death. With an overdose prevention site available to the public, I personally believe that it could decrease the amount of overdose deaths by up to fifty percent.

Some of you may be wondering, why would anyone choose to use needles, knowing all these risks? You may be thinking that this is a choice, but it is not. Addiction is a disease, and I didn't always believe that, but as I went through years of addiction, I watched myself and those around me as we struggled day in and day out, trying to keep ourselves well, just to we did not have to go through withdrawal.

This was not a struggle to get high each day, but simply to maintain. This is what this disease does. It captivates the life of the addict. I am so grateful for being able to speak here today and for this bill being considered by all of you, as I feel it is so important for everyone to have somewhere to go that is clean and safe, and provides support and resources. I am respectfully asking for a yes to this bill.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Amelia Long, a Coloradan testifying in favor of Senate Bill 40. Now, let's hear from Trina Faatz.

TRINA FAATZ: I'm Trina Faatz, and I've been a resident of Colorado for 35 years. I'm asking for a yes vote on Senate Bill 40.

I'm representing myself, my family, and my friends who have lost a child to overdose, of which I now have three friends who have lost their children, one in Steamboat, one in Boulder, and one in Denver.

I am also representing the numerous young people I have had the privilege of working with and knowing, who are in recovery from this devastating disease.

I volunteer in many programs with youth, including the CASA program in my county, and have for 15 years, and the DA's diversion program for youth afflicted with drug and alcohol charges. I also am a member of an opioid advisory group for our county public health department, but I speak for myself. But I've been putting on presentations with experts and recovered young adults for the community to help people understand and erase the shame and stigma that goes along with this disease.

I know young adults in jail for crimes committed because of their addiction and desperation, and I know how they and their families suffer. Overdose prevention sites are proven to be part of the answer in many cities and countries by providing people the attention and assistance they need.

My husband and I and his family have been small local business owners in Denver, Glenwood Springs, Bounder, and Fort Collins for thirty years. We know from having public restrooms for our customers how desperate needle users often access public restrooms, causing many local businesses to find people in the depths of overdose right in their bathrooms, and having to close their bathrooms in the future for their customers.

It also adds to the stigma and prejudice against people who are suffering with addiction. A family member of ours was a needle user, and we realized that he was not safe in the community and that -- that he was a part of and needed to be allowed to live at home, but many substance abusers do not have a home to live in or to be safe in.

They are unable to stop addiction alone, and often feel they cannot. They've become a threat to themselves and the public due to their lack of hygiene and safe use practices that they are not able to access.

They will tell you how awful and out of control their lives are, and they live to avoid the pain and terrible distress of withdrawal. Public restrooms, parks, cars, and public buildings become their refuge for using, and this allows the spread of communicable disease and overdose in public places.

Prevention sites and needle exchange sites will provide clean places for people to use, and to remain in a safe supervised location, and have continual access to resources, support, and help.

We are in an epidemic, and turning away from these issues will not resolve them or make them go away. Colorado ranks as one of the highest, with substance abuse and overdose and misuse. Please pass this bill and help to save more lives. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: Trina Faatz is a Coloradan testifying in favor of Senate Bill 40. Barbara Brohl is an attorney and regulatory policy consultant in Colorado who served as Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Revenue from 2011 through 2017. She was also testifying in favor of Senate Bill 40. Here she is.

BARBARA BROHL: My name is Barbara Brohl and I am here to testify in support of Senate Bill 18-040. I am one of the few Coloradans who has actually toured one of these facilities, and seen how they work.

I've often said that the measure of a government is how it treats its most vulnerable, and that group includes those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. If you've worked, lived, or played downtown, you've seen them, those nameless, sometimes faceless individuals who at times blend into the background.

Some of them became addicted as a result of opioid use, mental illness, or they began using drugs in other ways. How they became addicted is not an issue for my testimony. As the ED for the Department of Revenue for 2011 to August of 2017, I was the state licensing authority for among other things marijuana. I regulated marijuana for six years, working very hard to get our arms around the medical side, and then was responsible for rolling out Amendment 64's mandate of adult use.

Throughout that time, I took my responsibility to protect public safety while balancing the burden on the industry very seriously, and I also began to understand a little more about the concept of harm reduction.

Effective drug treatment strategies utilize four pillars: biomedical, which are those that include treatments to prevent overdose or relapse; psychological strategies; social approaches; and then harm reduction. And those are the ones that recognize that although drugs and alcohol can have destructive impacts on the lives of people who use them, it's also extremely difficult for many to become abstinent, thus many are not ready, or able, to stop, so harm reduction strategies meet people where they are.

I had the opportunity to see those strategies in action while speaking at a harm reduction conference in Switzerland, and then touring a supervised injection facility in Frankfurt, Germany. The most progressive part is harm reduction, and when I first heard about it I was fascinated by it. Couldn't understand how it was going to work, how it came about, any of those things.

I was very fortunate that I was able to talk to former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, who is now a commissioner on the Global Commission on Drug Policy. She explained how they came about in Switzerland, and why people really approved them.

As I learned more about harm reduction, I also learned how important supervised injection facilities play, and the essential role they play in both harm reduction and public safety, because frankly, public safety and harm reduction are two halves of the same coin.

When you implement harm reduction concepts for persons who use drugs, that generally means they won't be injecting on the street, the alley, or in a public restroom, by definition that increases public safety.

Harm reduction encompasses many things. First, needle exchanges. Good start. It's been shown to lower the risk of HIV transmission and in many areas of the world including here in Colorado, the rate of new HIV infections among people who inject has dropped significantly, and I applaud the Harm Reduction Action Center for the work that they've done.

Second, supervised injection facilities, as I said, I'm one of the few Coloradans who's actually gone and seen one, toured one, talked to the patrons. I've seen how they work. And I still maintain a relationship with that director.

Let me tell you what I saw when we arrived at the facility, because I think that's really important and it will kind of alleviate some of the fear that people have.

CO STATE SENATOR JERRY SONNENBERG: Ms. Brohl, your time has expired, would you please conclude.

BARBARA BROHL: Certainly. I expected to see a lot of people milling around, asking for money, maybe even dealing drugs, and that was not the case. What struck me at first was the line to come to the building: short, people were waiting, they were patient, they were quiet, they were well behaved, and there weren't any conflicts in line.

I have a number of other things that I can tell you, if you're interested in some of them, and some statistics, which I think are quite important, based on the other testimony. The nonprofit facility in Germany was founded in 1989. The first injection room was opened in 1991. There are 25 supervised injection rooms in --


BARBARA BROHL: operating through Germany.



DOUG MCVAY: That was Barbara Brohl, formerly the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Revenue, now an attorney and regulatory policy consultant in Colorado. Following all the testimony, the committee had a vote.

COMMITTEE CLERK: The motion, just to remind everyone, is to the committee of the whole as amended. Senator Court?


COMMITTEE CLERK: Senator Fenberg?




COMMITTEE CLERK: Senator Sonnenberg?



CO STATE SENATOR VICKI MARBLE: No. Senate Bill 40 fails, 3-2. Senator Sonnenberg?

CO STATE SENATOR JERRY SONNENBERG: Thank you, madame chair. I move to postpone indefinitely by reversing the roll call.







COMMITTEE CLERK: Senator Sonnenberg?



CO STATE SENATOR VICKI MARBLE: Aye. Senate Bill 40 is postponed indefinitely.

DOUG MCVAY: The two Senators who voted in favor were Senator Lois Court and Senator Stephen Fenberg. The three who killed that bill were committee chair Vicki Marble, vice chair Jerry Sonnenberg, and Senator Owen Hill. Those three voted to kill Colorado Senate Bill 40, and in doing so they have caused the deaths of countless Coloradans.

You know, whenever this kind of thing happens I have to ask myself why? I mean, the facts are that supervised injection facilities and drug consumption rooms save lives. The facts are, they prevent the spread of disease.

The facts are they bring disaffected populations into contact with healthcare and social services. The facts are they enhance public safety. The facts are that things things even save money, if you care about money.

Those are the facts. How does someone oppose something like that? I mean, are they so wedded to their drug war ideology that they’re blind to the people around them, or do theyj just not give a damn about other people?

In spite of that committee vote, efforts to expand harm reduction interventions and to create safe consumption spaces will continue, in Colorado, in New York, in Philadelphia, in Seattle, in Portland and the rest of the United States, and around the world. And I’ll continue reporting on it.

For now, that’s all the time we have 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 are available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about the drug war and this century of lies. 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.

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