Updated Feb 1, 2023 - News

Denver-area leaders grapple with meth contamination fallout

A man lighting a crystal meth pipe. Photo: Shannon Morris/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Denver metro leaders are wrestling with ways to address and prevent costly fallouts from meth contamination in public places.

Why it matters: Heavy meth use in metro Denver is hurting its users and limiting people's access to public services. At the same time, it's costing cities — and taxpayers — hundreds of thousands of dollars to deal with.

Driving the news: Arvada Library closed indefinitely Saturday after testing revealed traces of methamphetamine that exceeded state safety levels — the region's fourth library to close for similar reasons within a month.

  • Denver Public Library isn't testing for meth contamination because crews "clean the buildings daily and throughout the day if needed," and bathrooms are monitored by staff, the city says.

State of play: Denver's health department is working with industrial hygiene contractors to formalize its cleaning protocol into a policy, which should be finished in "the next few weeks," agency spokesperson Emily Williams tells Axios Denver.

  • The new policy will include routine cleaning operations for unknown substances and for viral pathogens, like COVID-19 and influenza. It will also outline when Denver police or health professionals need to be consulted, Williams says.

Meanwhile, Boulder's central library — the first to test positive and close in late December — has already shelled out $188,000 in testing and cleanup efforts, says library spokesperson Annie Elliott.

  • The city has since reopened its main branch without upholstered furnishings, or access to public restrooms and computers.
  • Bathroom access will be restored in "a few more weeks," but the library's 28 computers for adults won't be available until "we identify a solution that is more easily cleanable on a routine basis," Elliott says.

Zoom out: The uptick in testing and closures is part of a ripple effect after the Boulder library incident, with many local jurisdictions proactively probing their libraries and transit stations for remnants of the drug.

Yes, but: Some drug addiction specialists say the growing library closures, and media coverage of them, are overblown.

  • "Meth has been just as popular for years," Lisa Raville, executive director of the Harm Reduction Action Center, told Westword. "If the drug war had a communications director, she's doing a great job at getting misinformation out there."

The big picture: Meth was the largest contributor to the rise in overdose deaths statewide before the introduction of fentanyl, Williams says. It remains one of the leading causes of overdose deaths in Denver and nationwide.

Threat level: The public health risk related to short-term or incidental exposure to meth in public areas is very low, health experts say.

  • The main health concerns stem from long-term exposure to properties where meth is produced or routinely consumed.

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