Guest commentary: Senate Bill 12-163, health board needle distribution plan both bad ideas

As your elected District Attorney and County Sheriff, we are jointly responsible for maintaining public safety throughout Larimer County. Combined, we have over 50 years of experience in protecting the community from crime through wise enforcement of the criminal laws of the state. We’ve seen firsthand the devastation that drug abuse has brought upon families and communities. We’ve witnessed families destroyed, careers ruined and promising futures extinguished because of the effects of drug addiction and the related crimes that occur to support those addictions.

By Larry Abrahamson, District Attorney, Colorado 8th Judicial District
and Justin Smith, Larimer County Sheriff

We have also personally witnessed the successes of youth who followed the path established by positive role models and mentors who have steered them away from illegal drug use. We’ve seen addicts who’ve chosen to accept help and treatment and who’ve later become responsible parents, productive workers and respected members of our community.

Jointly, we are concerned about some moves both at the state capitol as well as here in our county that run the risk of giving up some of the gains we’ve made over the last few decades. At the state house, Senate Bill 12-163 threatens to roll back many of the effective laws to combat illegal drug possession by lessening the punishment for the most deadly street drugs – heroin, cocaine, LSD, PCP, Meth, along with many others. Not only would it potentially scuttle our innovative and effective drug courts that are designed to keep addicts out of the penitentiary, but it could also increase our already overcrowded local jail population. As police and prosecutors, this law would take away many of the negative legal consequences that offenders need to encourage consistent commitment to rehabilitative programs. We have been working to encourage the legislators to work together with DAs and police officials through the Governor’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ), allowing for research and debate on this very important public safety issue.

Closer to home, we are jointly concerned about a proposal being considered by our local Health Board to sanction the distribution of needles to IV drug addicts. We share the goal of a healthier community in Larimer County, but we don’t believe that this enabling act of distributing needles for the intended purpose of injecting lethal drugs is the right thing for Larimer County. We continue to support all efforts to counsel addicts to encourage them to stop abusing illegal drugs, but enabling behaviors, whether it comes through friends and families or through well-intended government sponsored programs, has the potential of increasing the very dangerous practice of inter-venous drug use. Statistics from our County Coroner’s Office reveal a disturbing trend in the dangers of illegal IV drug use. Between 2010 and 2011, the number of heroin overdose deaths in Larimer County doubled. For 2012, if the year to date trend continues, it looks like we will double those overdose deaths yet again. We believe when balancing the health risk of HIV and Hepatitis with the health risk of overdose, the consequence of destroyed families and all drug associated criminal activity, the thought of sanctioning drug needle distribution in Larimer County is a bad idea, a step in the wrong direction.

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