Source:  Rocky Mountain News July 9, 1997 Page 6A
Contact: By Bill Johnson

Now, I have never met Ed Thomas. Yet for the bulk of the past week, the
Denver city councilman had talked me into thinking the same way he does: That
the mayor's initiative to provide intravenous drug users free, clean needles
will only encourage drug use and proliferate crime. Heaven knows, you tell
yourself, we don't need any more of either.

So what does Wellington Webb know that Thomas doesn't? The mayor of Denver
certainly doesn't strike me as a guy who'd want more junkies and criminals on
the streets.

I checked it out myself and found that Boulder County's health department
since 1989 has run the only public needleexchange program of its kind in
Colorado. It is the same type of program Webb, after much study and
soulsearching, last week said he will seek to set up in Denver.

To do it, Webb will have to persuade the cops and DA to look the other way at
  or exempt  needleexchange program workers and participants from an
ordinance that prohibits possession of intravenous needles. Or get the City
Council to abolish the ordinance altogether.

Fat chance, I say, on any of the three.

So I called Boulder. After eight years with a needleexchange program,
certainly Boulder County is awash with intravenous drugusers and property
and other drugrelated crimes. 

Chuck Stout, executive director of the Boulder County Health Department,
laughed. He'd read of Thomas' fears, and called his logic "absolutely silly."
And then he produced study after study released since 1993 from such groups
as the General Accounting Office, the Centers for Disease Control and the
National Academy of Sciences. They show exchange programs such as his do
absolutely nothing to increase intravenous drug use or the incidence of

"What they have proven is (exchange programs) effectively lower the rate of
HIV transfer among intravenous drug users, their offspring and into the
heterosexual population," he said. "Period."

This is how the program works: Former users, who want their friends to be
former users, get 15 hours of drugabuse training. They are sent into the
community to deliver safesex messages, to persuade users to come in for HIV
and hepatitis testing and for treatment options.

Using dirty needles? "You don't have to," they are told. They exchange is one
clean needle for every dirty needle. The message is, "We care about you. We
don't want you to needlessly contract a bloodborne disease," Stout said. "It
is, given the alternative, the most humane thing a society can do."

Yes, but what of the morality of providing drug users with the paraphernalia
to ply their destructive habit? Chuck Stout doesn't blink. "We are not in the
business of blaming. Not when people and their children are dying. We say,
simply, we are here to get you safe. And when you are ready, we will help you
get treatment for your problem."

To say, well, they've made the decision to use drugs and must suffer the
consequences is neither humane nor intelligent, Stout said. "Hold a baby who
has contracted HIV from his mother," he said. "Tell me that infant brought
this on himself."

My mistake, Chuck Stout said, is accepting the word of people lacking the
courage to lead by studying and getting accurate information on an issue. "A
real leader of people," he said, "will not prey on our fears. He will,
instead, say, 'I understand and appreciate your beliefs. But let me give you
the correct information. And we will go from there.'"