‘People need a safe place’; Boulder plans and law enforcement to address growing fentanyl overdose problem

On a calm, sunny afternoon in September, Ian Boyd stood in the shade of a public bathroom on Pearl Street in downtown Boulder. Around him, some homeless Boulder men lay sleeping in the sun in front of the Boulder County Historic Courthouse.

The area is popular among unhoused neighborhoods and the Central Park area, where people are often seen sleeping and talking on the grass. But the area has also attracted the attention of local law enforcement because of its drug and overdose problems.

According to multiple tweets from Boulder police, the department arrested at least 11 people related to drug possession from August 31 to September 31. 7 days, including arrest on September 6th. 6 in the Central Park and Pearl Street Mall areas.

Boulder Deputy Police Chief Stephen Redfearn said the sweep was an effort to combat the immediate distribution and use of fentanyl after police responded to two fentanyl overdoses within the same hour.

Despite the situation, Redfern said arrests are not a long-term solution.

“Our officers administer anesthesia to someone almost every day,” Redfern said, referring to the brand name of naloxone, a spray used to revive people who have overdosed on opioids. agent. “That’s part of it too, just noting that wow, we’re seeing more overdoses and we have to do something about it. Arresting someone may not solve their addiction problem, but it at least stops people from having problems with their addiction.” Drug use is blatant in public spaces where families want to enjoy themselves.”

Boyd has been in Boulder for the past 10 years and has seen firsthand the effects of fentanyl and other drug use in early adulthood. The 22-year-old was born in Santa Cruz, California, before moving to Colorado with his adoptive family. He said the city is more socially accepting than most, but he still has work to do on how to address drug abuse.

“There aren’t a lot of well-known resources,” Boyd said. “It requires other people already knowing and telling you. “Some people on the street really don’t have the resources to call or ask the right people because that requires knowing the right people. “

Boyd always carries naloxone with him in case someone is nearby and needs fentanyl – which has tainted the drug market in recent years. In the past, he said, he had to hand out nasal spray to save someone’s life.

Harm Reduction and Drug Take Back Programs

Ian Boyd carries Narcan in his backpack. (Nikki Andrews/Staff Writer)

Amanda Wroblewski, coordinator of PILLAR, the prevention and intervention drug program at Boulder Community Foothills Hospital, said drug use has grown exponentially in Boulder in recent years.

PILLAR, which stands for Prevention and Intervention with Lifelong Alternatives and Recovery, provides free assistance to Boulder County residents with chronic pain and opioid or other substance use disorders, according to its website. In addition to serving as a referral program and providing education on opioid use, the program uses more comprehensive treatment alternatives for patients with opioid use disorder.

Since the beginning of the year, the program has had more than 500 participants in September. By 2022, the full-year total will be about 450, according to Wroblewski.

“The effects of the drugs are getting stronger and stronger,” Wroblewski said. “Fentanyl is a big problem because it’s everywhere, mostly in pressed pills or powder. If someone thinks they’re buying cocaine, they’re not prepared for fentanyl, which is what leads to fentanyl overdoses , which has a much higher fatality rate than we’ve seen in the past.”

The increase in overdoses has led to increased demand for services such as PILLAR and the Works Program, a harm reduction program of the Boulder County Public Health Department.

Georgia Babatsikos, hazard reduction program manager for the engineering program, said the demand for the program “has become overwhelming,” resulting in the program needing to hire more hazard reduction experts and educators.

In addition to providing free harm-reduction medical supplies, educational resources and HIV and hepatitis B testing, the engineering program features an outreach team that will visit Pearl Street, Central Park and other areas where homeless people often live areas for returnees, distributing supplies to reduce unsafe drug use, according to Babatzkos. The program also operates a clinic at the St. Vrain Community Center, 515 Kaufman Street, Longmont, where anyone can go to receive free, confidential care.

Boyd said that while it is difficult for people experiencing homelessness to access resources when they need them, he does notice and appreciate the presence of outreach teams and people providing support to the community.

law enforcement response

Babazikos said the work program had a “good relationship” with police and included narcotics training for officers and sharing overdose data in the region through a confidential overdose map. Babatsikos said the engineering program, with support from the Boulder Police Department, has been running since 1989, making it the third-oldest harm reduction program in the United States

Boyd said that while Boulder does better than most places when it comes to drug arrests and charges, he criticized police for sudden spikes in drug arrests, including one in early September.

“A few months ago, everywhere was incredibly regulated,” Boyd said Tuesday. “And often, strange to say, I saw people twisting bubbles or smoking foil in broad daylight. At least. Let’s just say it’s weird. Do I think it’s okay? No. But I also don’t think it’s okay to allow this to happen and make it look like there’s nothing wrong with it, and then completely switch sides the next day and sweep and arrest everyone they see It’s not cool to be doing what they’ve been telling them to do for months.”

In September, Redfern said the department would review drug arrests a month or two after the sweep. They said they would re-evaluate their approach if there were no effective changes.

Redfern said low-level arrests could lead defendants to provide information about large suppliers because repeat offenders tend to be part of “very organized” hierarchies.

“We know we’re not going to solve this problem in one day, and that’s why we’re going to continue to exist, but a big part of it for us is, we understand we’re not going to be able to arrest our people to solve these problems,” Reade Fin said. “Writing tickets repeatedly without any results does not solve the problem. So we will continue to work with our partners.”

Boyd said he wants more police officers to protect homeless people in response to drug-related violence.

“People need a safe place,” Boyd said. “If there was a space where people could have fun and still have the resources of a police force … there would be a lot of people getting hurt here.”

Boyd was booked into the Boulder County Jail on Aug. 6 and released on Sept. 1 after being arrested on five felony charges, including unlawful possession of methamphetamine and unlawful possession of heroin or fentanyl. 9 $5,000 bond.

“In prison, it’s not a good place,” Boyd said. “It doesn’t motivate you to make some kind of positive change for yourself or for any other reason. “They’ll go to jail, and then they’ll be released, and then they’ll still do the same thing. “

Boulder County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Carrie Haverfield said inmates are asked twice about drug and alcohol-related questions upon arrival at the jail. They are then contacted by both departments to offer help by connecting the inmate to a drug or alcohol addiction recovery program.

“There are multiple failsafes built into the process so people don’t let an opportunity slip through the cracks,” Haverfield wrote in an email. “The most important part of this is that prisoners must be willing to participate. No one is forced to participate in the program and some are asked to leave the program due to lack of participation.”

Haverfield added that the jail is currently understaffed, leading to a backlog of inmates waiting for programming. She also said the program was offered in two areas, one for male inmates and one for female inmates, but not everyone could live in either housing area due to fees, behavioral or mental health issues.

Programs at the jail are run by Community Justice Services employees, Sheriff’s Office employees and other outside partners, who receive some funding from the work program.

long term solution

Redfearn, Babatsikos and Wroblewski all said the social perception that drug use and overdoses primarily or only affect homeless people is wrong. According to Babatsikos, 50 percent of overdoses in Boulder occur at home.

“Drug use does not discriminate,” Wroblewski said. “It’s very difficult to hide your drug use when you’re homeless, out, exposed to the elements, exposed to people all day long. If your basic needs are met and you have a house, You can have some privacy and get everything you want, and then I guess that (the public) doesn’t think it’s a problem.”

Babazikos called on Boulder residents and officials to address the social determinants of health as they combat drug use. That includes prioritizing access to housing, employment and health care and recognizing the intersectionality of these issues, she said.

“We need to address and prevent the underlying trauma that leads to drug use,” Babazikos said. “Trauma can include physical, sexual, psychological and structural racism.”

Babatzkos said harm reduction starts with preparing people to support others with addiction without judgment and taking the time to understand what they are going through and have gone through.

Those seeking a PILLAR appointment may contact Taylor Bister at tbister@bch.org. To contact Engineering Programs, please call 720-864-6515. Redfearn is asking anyone who witnesses an overdose or unconsciousness to call 911. Redfearn said anyone who witnesses suspicious circumstances, which may include dealing or selling drugs or illegal or unsafe ingestion of drugs, is asked to call dispatch at 303-441-3333.

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