Demonstrators, including Rep. Elisabeth Epps, bottom right, and Rep.-elect Tim Hernández, bottom left, lay on the interior Capitol steps on Aug. 31, 2023, for 288 seconds in honor of the number of people in Denver who have died of a drug overdose in 2023 so far. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)
As tourists milled about the Colorado Capitol on Thursday, staffers strode to committee rooms and maintenance staff polished ornate brass adornments, about a dozen people silently lay across the grand first-floor staircase with their eyes closed for over four minutes, an act of remembrance for loved ones who died from a drug overdose.
The “die-in” marked International Overdose Awareness Day, a campaign to remember without stigma people who died from an overdose and, in the case of those at the Capitol, call for policy action to quell overdose deaths.
“We must demand that policymakers listen to the demands of the communities most affected by overdoses and that they prioritize and expand the evidence-based public health strategies proven to save lives,” said Jennifer Dillon, an organizer with the Colorado Drug Policy Coalition, said.
Those strategies, she said, are wide-ranging and include overdose prevention centers, on-demand treatment, housing-first programs, basic income programs, and expanded harm reduction funding to make items like naloxone and fentanyl test strips readily available.
She also suggested policies to reduce criminalization and punishment for drug use.
“Legislators are letting their allegiance to comfort and the status quo bury our loved ones. As much as today is a day of reverence and honor, it is also a day of shame — especially for those people who ran on platforms of decarceration, decriminalization and humane drug policy. My challenge to all of us is that we make that unforgivable this legislative session,” Dillon said.
There have been 311 deaths involving drugs — 201 of which involve fentanyl — in Denver County this year, according to medical examiner data.
The Colorado Legislature last session considered a bill that would have let local governments decide whether to allow overdose prevention centers to operate in their city. Those centers, sometimes called safe use sites, are places where people can use drugs under supervision of people who can administer the overdose-reversing drug naloxone if needed. The bill did not pass, but another version could be introduced next year.
“We’re finding our neighbors in alleys and in their tents and in coffee shop bathrooms. That’s where we’re finding them, where they left us. But the series of decisions and actions that led us to losing them happens here,” Rep. Elisabeth Epps, a Democrat who sponsored the overdose prevention center bill, said at the Capitol Thursday. “We use the words ‘preventable deaths.’ That’s all of them. And they are a result of policy choices.”
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.