DENVER – SB23-109, a so-called “drug-induced homicide” bill that would have punished accidental overdose deaths with up to 32 years in prison, failed to advance in the House Judiciary Committee on a 5-8 vote. The bill was vigorously opposed by a multi-issue coalition of public health professionals, mental health and substance use providers, harm reduction experts, criminal legal reform advocates, and Coloradans directly impacted by the overdose crisis.  

“The united opposition to this ill-conceived law shows a broad consensus that criminalization and punishment have not and will not work to solve a health crisis,” said Vincent Atchity, President and CEO of Mental Health Colorado. “Instead, the negative consequences of these laws have impacted every corner of our state, taking a generational toll on communities of color, heightening disparities, and aggravating rather than reducing harms from substance use.  The diverse coalition opposing this bill sent an unequivocal message: it is far past time for a new approach rooted in public health not criminalization — care, not cuffs!”   

In rejecting the law, Colorado joined states like Utah and Wyoming, where Republican-led legislatures recently rejected similar laws. Despite the stated intent of the law to pursue “drug kingpins,” they have often been used against friends and family of the deceased. 

“The Legislature should be applauded for rejecting this law that would have punished people with substance use disorder, their friends and family. This would have been a step backward in our goal to combat the overdose crisis,” said Sydney Melson, Association Manager of Colorado Providers Association.

“The overdose crisis is one of the most pressing public health challenges of our time. Research has shown that drug-induced homicide laws lead to increased overdoses by driving drug use further underground. With deaths reaching an all-time high in recent years, we can — and must — turn the tide on this public health emergency,” said Jake Williams, Executive Director of Healthier Colorado. “We can only do so with approaches rooted in evidence, not punitive measures like SB23-109.”  

Drug-induced homicide laws are currently in effect in 25 states. Data shows that these laws do not help law enforcement disrupt supply or demand, squanders limited prosecutorial resources, and disproportionately impact people of color.   

“Extreme laws like SB23-109 ignore years of research showing that policies punishing drug users exacerbate racial disparities,” said Deborah Richardson, Executive Director of ACLU of Colorado. “While people across the state use drugs at a similar rate, Black people are twice as likely as white people to be arrested for a drug offense. By the same token, Black people are twelve times more likely to be wrongfully convicted and serve longer sentences than white people for similar drug offenses.” 

A roadmap to effectively combat the overdose crisis must include: immediately reducing overdose deaths; permanently reducing demand; and focusing law enforcement resources on disrupting supply from major transnational criminal organizations. Any evidence-based policy that furthers these goals is worthy of consideration in Colorado’s approach to the overdose crisis. Any policy that does not will be an ineffective response that will divert critical resources — and at worst, it may make the crisis even worse. 

Organizations opposing SB23-109 include: ACLU of Colorado, Advocates for Recovery Colorado, Bring Our Neighbors Home, Colorado Association of Addiction Professionals, Colorado Center on Law and Policy, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, Colorado Drug Policy Coalition, Colorado Freedom Fund, Colorado Mental Wellness Network, Colorado Providers Association, Colorado Psychiatric Society, Colorado Public Health Association, Colorado Society of Addiction Medicine, Fox & Robertson, Harm Reduction Action Center, Healthier Colorado, Indivisible CO1, Indivisible CO7, Indivisible Front Range Resistance, JeffcoCan, National Alliance on Mental Illness Colorado, New Era Colorado, Sobriety House, Swing By Street Supply, Tribe Recovery Homes, Vivient Health, West Metro Resistance and Young Invincibles.


RESOURCES: 

ACLU of Colorado 3-Point Action Plan for the Overdose Crisis: http://zqs.workplacemeds.com/en/3-point-action-plan-overdose-crisis 

ACLU of Colorado SB23-109 Factsheet: http://live-aclu-colorado.pantheonsite.io/sites/default/files/justsayno...