Boulder City Council received a quarterly report from its municipal judge on Tuesday night, with some disturbing news. As KGNU’s Roz Brown reports, methamphetamine has made a big comeback, particularly among homeless populations.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment first reported the deadly comeback across the state last year, and council learned Tuesday that Boulder is among the cities affected. Chris Reynolds is a municipal prosecutor in the City Attorney’s office and says many local meth addicts resort to crime in order to fund their addiction.
“In addition, meth addicts can turn violent. Our longtime homeless are telling police and the courts they’re scared of the new meth addicts in the city.”
Boulder Municipal Judge Linda Cooke says meth addiction is pervasive among the homeless population because it’s much cheaper than other drugs.
“Officers estimate meth use among the homeless population has gone from 15 percent, to 80 percent in recent years.”
But even while the numbers are alarming, Police Chief Greg Testa said Boulder’s problem is not unique.
“There’s no reason to believe Boulder’s meth problem among the homeless is any worse than any other community that has a homeless problem.”
Nonetheless, Attorney Reynolds told council city crews assigned to clean up homeless encampment sites, are finding 30-to-50 needles at each location. Because meth addictions are often funded through theft, in Boulder that means high-end bicycles. Reynolds says bicycle theft has been on the rise the past five years, and is expected to increase by 17 percent this year over the five-year average. He says arrests by police officers are difficult.
“These individuals are often detoxing which causes them to hurt themselves or others. One officer was recently stuck with a needle and the individual using that needle tested positive for Hepatitis C.”
The rise in meth deaths in 2017 helped push Colorado’s drug fatalities above 1,000 for the first time on record. Cook says the meth is not being produced locally, but rather coming into Colorado from Mexico.
“Denver is a main point of distribution, with dealers coming up the I-25 corridor. Another state with a big problem is Wyoming, and also Minnesota and Iowa.”
Boulder City council-member Cindy Carlisle says Boulder’s growing problem has not gone unnoticed by local residents.
“We’ve been hearing from so many people on the hotline about the issues in the park, the Creek etc., and I’m wondering how we get the message out that this isn’t just a Boulder problem and we’re doing the best we can to deal with it.”
Boulder Council-members indicated they would like more data – perhaps numbers of people who are meth addicts in the city and particularly in the homeless population. Councilmember Sam Weaver suggested further presentations and discussions are needed.
“The gathering spots near parks and schools are especially concerning so I feel like if we need to increase our patrols there that’s something we should do.”
Boulder does have homeless outreach officers and “navigators” on the street each week to work with the homeless and offer help to those who want to kick their addictions. But adequate treatment and housing are obstacles. And while the meth problem has been overshadowed by opioids and marijuana in the Colorado news headlines, Mayor Suzanne Jones said an action plan may be needed.
“It seems like we need to be doing something more about this and address public safety around the issue,” said Jones.