DENVER — This week, the Colorado House followed the Senate’s lead and approved SB-208, which allows participants in syringe access programs in Colorado to possess needles, as long as they are not pre-loaded.
SB-208, sponsored by Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver), ensures that syringe access program participants, along with syringe providers, are immune from paraphernalia laws criminalizing possessors of syringes. SB-208 now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.
“This victory, along with others, reveals a promising public health approach to drug policy within the Colorado legislature,” says Art Way of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Our elected officials are taken notice that a punitive criminal justice – enforcement only – approach actually hinders efforts to minimize the personal and societal harms associated with drug use.”
SB-208’s passage, along with SB-14 marks the culmination of a successful legislative session for public health, harm reduction, and drug policy reform. SB 13-14, sponsored by Sen. Irene Aguilar, will expand access to Naloxone - an overdose reversing, opiate antagonist - by providing protection against civil and criminal liability for medical professionals who prescribe the drug to third parties, and laypeople who subsequently administer it. Naloxone distribution is part of comprehensive overdose prevention efforts.
Both bills await Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature.
“Plainly stated, these bills will save lives and limit the spread of disease,” said Lisa Raville of the Harm Reduction Action Center. “Good Samaritan policies, Naloxone distribution, and immunity for participants of syringe access programs are critical to Colorado's comprehensive efforts to establish drug policy where the lives of the users and the public health of the community is priority."
SB 13-208 completes Colorado’s public health intervention concerning injection drug users, which began in 2010 with SB 10-189, a bill that allowed county health organizations to authorize syringe access programs in an effort to combat the transmission of disease.
Immunity for syringe possession is fairly wide spread across the country, 27 jurisdictions employ some form of immunity, and 14 jurisdictions have decriminalized syringe possession. Naloxone distribution is less widespread but gaining momentum fast. Eleven states, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington State, as well as the District of Columbia, have passed laws that explicitly provide protection from civil and/or criminal liability for people who prescribe or administer naloxone to those at risk for drug overdose.
The Opiate antagonist proposal is supported by public health organizations, treatment providers and advocacy groups, including the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, the Colorado Dep’t of Public Health and the Environment, and the Colorado Medical Society. The Syringe Participant Proposal is supported by many of the same groups including the Colorado Aids Project and the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.