Gov. Jared Polis is at it again.

In a troubling trend of strong-armed tactics, Colorado’s two-term governor has issued yet another preemptive bill veto — even as the topic in question could hold a legislative majority from his own party. The latest offense? His staunch refusal to allow overdose prevention centers in Colorado.

This is not the first time Polis has publicly threatened lawmakers with a veto. In 2020, Polis threatened to veto a tax fairness bill. In 2021, Polis threatened to veto a climate change bill. Who knows how many threats he’s made behind closed doors. 

That Polis acts more like a king than a governor is only part of the problem. His recent threat reeks of fear and anti-science, a shocking and growing trend from a man who claims to be grounded in facts. 

Polis has repeatedly demeaned scientists and the scientific process in general. From publicly claiming that scientists live in ivory towers and are out of touch with reality to lashing out at several high-ranking Food and Drug Administration scientists for having “blood on their hands,” Polis is not the friend scientists might hope for. He also blatantly refused to enact medically recommended mandates for safety and prevention. Talk about irony. 

Polis’ troubling history makes his threats on overdose prevention centers all the more concerning. With stances against climate change bills, COVID-19 measures and now overdose prevention centers, how many times can he ignore the evidence before we finally question if what he’s saying is actually true? When does saying one thing and doing another become a pattern of straight-up lying and anti-science, rather than just taking him at his word?

The science is particularly relevant regarding overdose prevention centers. After decades of programs worldwide, there’s plenty of research to back up their use and effectiveness. And when the public is correctly informed, the programs are majority-supported. This means I’m running out of excuses to justify the governor’s early and staunch opposition to them.

If you aren’t quite familiar with these overdose programs, you might recognize them by their more commonly referred to names such as “safe injection sites,” “supervised injection sites” or “harm reduction centers.” While many in public spaces use these terminologies to refer to such programs, I will not. The reason is that the American Psychological Association strongly advises against such labels as they are insufficient descriptors that trigger unnecessary “knee-jerk stigma against people who use substances.”

Differences in terminology matter more than you might think. Overdose prevention programs are primarily designed to save lives by preventing drug overdoses, and the evidence backs this up. Research shows these programs can hold secondary benefits as well, such as increasing access to drug rehabilitation while decreasing local crime and health care costs

Critically,​​ there’s little to no evidence of increased drug use or trafficking in association with these centers. 

Offering medically monitored centers to reduce opioid overdoses is an overall win for the public. By encouraging existing drug users to be safer, we also gain less drug use in public, lower rates of shared-needle diseases, less drug paraphernalia and residue in public areas and even fewer drug-related crimes such as vandalism and theft because the person using drugs is now supervised during use in private spaces.

Labels such as “safe injection sites” undermine these efforts, according to surveys, particularly when marketed negatively and out of context. This often leads to the impression that such programs are designed to give a hall pass to drug users when they absolutely are not. Given so many politicians are eager to leverage this stigma and fear to their advantage — hello Colorado GOP — it’s easy to see why the emphasis on overdose prevention is so important. 

Polis’ threat to preemptively veto any and all overdose prevention centers plays directly into the hands of those seeking to exploit such fears. Worse, by ignoring the science, he is implicitly giving weight to others who also seek to refute science. This is problematic on multiple levels, not the least of which is that it would prevent Coloradans from doing everything possible to help curb the growing opioid crisis.

So here we are. We have informed state legislators willing to take on the task of running a bill and educating the public on how we can work to save lives. Yet we have a governor who would rather rule by iron fist and who won’t even entertain the discussion from within his own party.

Is this kind of leadership what Democrats now stand for? Because strong-armed veto threats and anti-science stances have happened several times now under Polis, and it makes me wonder. It’s easy to say you support democracy, facts and reason until you’re blue in the face, but if you refuse to play your part in securing them, how much is your word really worth?

Just ask Colorado Republicans.

Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio

Trish Zornio

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Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio