Denver Mayor Hancock Has Supported A Safe-Injection Site. Now It’s Not So Clear

· Jan. 17, 2019, 8:04 pm
Photo: Vancouver Safe Injection Site - APThe Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck/via AP
Registered nurse Sammy Mullally holds a tray of supplies to be used by a drug addict at the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver, B.C., May 11, 2011.

Not quite two months ago, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock sounded his approval for a safe-injection site in the city. In a new interview with 9News, he's more nuanced.

The City Council passed a bill in November approving creation of a supervised injection facility ― a place people who use intravenous drugs can inject under the supervision of medical professionals. The idea, many say, is to stop overdose deaths. The establishment of such a site still requires approval from state lawmakers. Hancock applauded the move, which would make Denver the first city in the U.S. with such a site.

“Like cities across the country, Denver is seeing significant numbers of people dying each year of drug overdoses,” Hancock said in a news release at the time. “There are many implementation and legal details to work out, but I fully support the bill city council approved last night, and will sign it into law.”

On Wednesday, Hancock slowed his enthusiasm.

In an interview with 9News, Hancock said he was “not necessarily” committed to the idea that the city should have a safe-injection site.

“We have not found a best practice anywhere in the country, or any city around the world, that has been successful in dealing with this issue,” Hancock said, adding that most people who overdose do so in private residences. “The reality is that we’re going to be hard-pressed to reach people, anyway.”

The mayor, who announced his re-election bid the same day as the interview, also railed off a list of obstacles he sees to opening a site, including “legal, community, regulatory, and, you know, civic hurdles that have to be overcome before a site like that is opened up in Denver.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Colorado and the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a letter in December saying opening such a site would be illegal under federal law and that anyone involved in the facility could face criminal charges.

Twelve countries around the world, however, have similar places for people to use drugs under medical supervision.

Hancock was unequivocal when asked if Denver could become known as a drug haven should Denver open a safe-injection site and separately approve the decriminalization of psychedelic mushrooms.

“We don’t want that reputation,” Hancock said.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said that Hancock had "backed away" from his support for a safe-injection site. The updated story more accurately reflects the position he expressed in the 9News interview.

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