Note: On Friday, May 5, 2023, the House Judiciary Committee rejected SB23-109 on a 5-8 vote.
It was raining that day. Not the normal early spring mist; no — a good hard rain. I just got back as the withdrawals were kicking in. That gross feeling of being sweaty cold. Those withdrawals felt like nothing after I unzipped the tent flap. I didn’t even have to look; I just knew she was gone.
My partner was the first person I had ever seriously thought about spending the rest of my life with. We had issues like all couples, but the one issue we shared was addiction. She was a wonderful, amazing, beautiful, loving person. She helped me to become more secure about myself. I loved her more than anything.
This was 2014 and fentanyl had not hit the streets like now. Unknown to us, however, was that our heroin was cut with fentanyl. It was all a blur after that. Ditching our rigs and talking to the police, all I can remember is that I was going through severe withdrawals while simultaneously feeling like someone had ripped my heart out and tossed it in the river with our rigs.
Her cause of death was an opioid overdose. We wanted to get married, live in a house, and have a little farm. We always told each other we would get clean after we got high one more time. For her, that one more time was her last. Because I was in Oregon at the time, I wasn’t charged with anything. I used for seven more years and overdosed at least 11 times. It ruined a marriage and I ended up living on the streets.
Because of rising overdose deaths, SB23-109 — a drug-induced homicide bill — was introduced in Colorado in 2023. It may be “well-intentioned,” but it could not be further from that. It is supposed to go after actual so-called “drug kingpins.” Instead, anyone who shares drugs or low-level “street dealers” (a large percentage of which are addicts themselves) who sell a very small amount of a substance could be found criminally liable if the person supplied the substances happens to overdose and die. This carries a sentence of up to 32 years in prison. This basically means that “kingpins” could still walk free, while someone who is already in their own personal hell would spend close to half of their life behind bars, after which — if that person doesn’t die in prison — would struggle enormously to be a member of society. I always wonder, “Would prison time have helped me?” It likely would have killed me. I was already dying inside.
Another fear is that this will circumvent “Good Samaritan” laws. Even with proposed amendments, this will drive drug use further underground and cause a surge in overdose deaths across Colorado — especially in the houseless community. Drug use is rampant in the houseless community, especially fentanyl. Heavy drug use can make it hard to trust other people. Cruel laws like Denver’s “urban camping ban” add to and exacerbate this distrust. The houseless will stop using Narcan and will think twice before calling emergency personnel if there is even a possibility of a law like SB23-109 passing. Instead, they will flee the situation for fear of being charged with the person’s death.
I implore anyone reading this to contact your legislator at the state capitol and ask them to vote “no” on yet another cruel law. This law will not reduce overdoses or slow the flood of fentanyl and other “hard” drugs onto the streets of Colorado. Instead, it only punishes substance use disorder. People of color, the houseless community, and the poor will bear the heaviest burden. This is not common-sense drug policy; this is fearmongering. This is cruelty.
I’ve been clean for one year and nine months. I have an apartment and a burgeoning career in the nonprofit sector. If Oregon had a drug-induced homicide law like SB23-109, I wouldn’t have any of this. Instead, I’d only have the memory of unzipping the tent flap and realizing my world was over. I’d have the misery of peering out from behind bars as another good, hard rain settled in once again.