I cannot be the only person in Denver that is deeply disturbed by the heroin epidemic on The Cherry Creek Trail. The trail itself is littered with intimidating dealers, strung out users, orange caps and ‘dirty’ syringes. The placement of a syringe disposal kiosk on the trail at Speer and Colfax last fall seemed to reduce the accumulation of needles on and around the actual trail but it certainly has not eradicated the issue. My dog still frequently attempts to pick up used needles and small squares of bloody gauze on our walks.
I find myself troubled not only by the threat these needles cause to public safety but also by the unintended consequences that result from heroin use on the trail. Just this morning I nearly stepped in a giant, smelly, steaming pile of human shit. Last fall I walked by a couple that had passed out mid-fuck (anal sex, I shit you not) amidst heroin paraphernalia. Recently I called paramedics for a man high on heroin who banged his head against the concrete retaining wall on the trail until he split his forehead open and passed out. This past winter I actually used Naloxone (a prescription used to treat narcotic overdoses) to help a man that had stopped breathing; his bloody face was planted in a snow bank and he was without pants.
But what I find myself most bothered by aren’t the threats to public safety nor the inconvenient and sometimes traumatic experiences caused by prevalent heroin use on the trail. What I find myself most bothered by are the faces of these heroin users. On our stroll this morning my pup I walked by a girl who would be lying if she said she was over 18. She lay nearly lifeless in the middle of the path, her pinprick size pupils darting back and forth, a resigned look on her pale, sore-covered face. I couldn’t help but stop to ask her if she was okay.
And we got to talking for just a bit. The girl told me that her “daddy” raped her for most of her life and that it got worse after her mom died of an overdose. The girl said that she recently ran away from her foster care home because her foster parents tried to force her to finish high school. The girl said she had a real nice older boyfriend somewhere nearby, that he’d gone to see about getting her more ‘stuff’ but that sometimes when he left he was gone for days. I bid adieu to the girl when she asked me for money. I told her that I hope she finds a path in life that makes her happy and that she stays safe.
As I walked home I got to thinking that each and every heroin user on the trail has a similarly heart wrenching story. After all, no one injects heroin for the first time just for fun. The widespread use of heroin on The Cherry Creek Trail presents a significant challenge to city law enforcement and public policy. The pervasive use of heroin on The Cherry Creek Trail also presents a significant threat to public safety and is detrimental to the growth of our urban community.
Yet the responsibility of solving this issue should not fall on the young girl who uses heroin to escape a lifetime of sexual abuse and trauma or others like her. The burden of implementing a solution to quell the ubiquitous use of heroin on The Cherry Creek Trail sits with city officials, law enforcement and Colorado’s mental health and substance abuse treatment system. There is a solution better than spray paint warnings and it is about damn time for our community to fucking figure it out before the girl I met this morning ends up dead.
Interested in Naloxone? Contact the Harm Reduction Action Center for more information.
“If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the “Fuck you” signs in the world. It’s impossible.”― J.D. Salinger