Jan 12, 2023 - News

How Boulder is managing its major meth problem

Photo illustration of a person in a hazmat suit holding caution tape in front of an abstract background of crystal particles.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Boulder leaders are scrambling to address rising methamphetamine use in the area.

What's happening: The city has seen a "dramatic" spike over the past six years in the number of methamphetamine-affected properties — places where the drug is used or produced.

Why it matters: Meth — now cheaper and deadlier than ever — is one of the country's leading causes of overdose deaths, with fatalities nearly tripling between 2015 and 2019, per the National Institutes of Health.

The latest: A downtown Boulder transit station on Tuesday was forced to temporarily close its bathrooms and adjacent hallway after traces of meth were found.

  • The closure comes after local officials shuttered the city's central library in late December due to meth contamination in restrooms and first-floor seating areas.
  • The Main Library reopened Monday — following an estimated $125,000 cleanup — without public access to restrooms.

What they're saying: "No public restrooms will be available for a few weeks until a new system is in place where library staff and contract security staff can help monitor the bathrooms and deter unwanted behavior," the city said in a statement.

State of play: Boulder officials are in the process of buying a home, expected to open later this year, that would provide in-patient addiction treatment for people who use meth and other illicit substances, the Boulder Reporting Lab writes.

  • The recovery home is intended to replace a Boulder office building that was temporarily repurposed last October to offer out-patient drug addiction services.
  • The new facility will be run by Tribe Recovery Homes, a Denver-based nonprofit that manages several sober living homes.

Of note: Part of Boulder's addiction recovery efforts are funded through a $900,000 grant awarded in 2021 by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Zoom out: Other cities in the area, like Denver and Englewood, aren't immune to the crisis. Last quarter, 80% of people served by Denver's Harm Reduction Action Center injected meth, executive director Lisa Raville tells Axios.

  • "A lot of our folks in the community use meth in the winter as a survival method, so they can walk around all night and not lay down and freeze to death," she said.
  • Moreover, "there isn't much substance use treatment in the community for stimulant use," like meth, she added.
  • Meanwhile, the city of Englewood on Wednesday temporarily closed its library, north Civic Center lobby and second floor restrooms at the Civic Center due to meth contamination after officials proactively tested for the substance following Boulder's library closure.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the downtown Boulder transit station temporarily closed its bathrooms and an adjacent hallway, not the full facility, on Tuesday.


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