Pubdate: Tue, 14 Oct 1997 Source: Denver Post/Science Writer Contact: www.denverpost.com Webb wants needle exchange by Ann Schrader, Denver Post Medicine/Science Writer Needleexchange programs aimed at fighting the spread of AIDS and other bloodborne diseases would be legalized in Denver under an ordinance Mayor Wellington Webb will propose today. Webb's plan, which couldn't go into effect without a change in state law, calls for amending the municipal code to allow up to three organizations to exchange needles and refer injecting drug users for treatment. The amendment would exempt health workers and participants from being arrested for possession of syringes distributed by the registered programs. The intent is to reduce the number of people who transmit HIV through contaminated needles. In needleexchange programs, drug users who might otherwise share syringes with other addicts and pass along HIV and hepatitis B and C are registered to receive one sterile needle for each dirty one. "Something has to be done," Webb said Monday. "By engaging the issue, I've come down on the side of let's implement the program, let's do it in a limited way." The ordinance will be considered Wednesday by a city council committee and Oct. 27 by the full council. Webb originally opposed needleexchange programs but changed his position after reviewing statistics on the number of children who contract HIV from their mothers, who either inject drugs or have sex partners who use drugs. In his July State of the City address, Webb said he shared a concern with some law enforcement officials that a needle exchange "would send the wrong message to young people we were trying to reach with our antidrug education efforts." But the situation hasn't gotten better and in some ways has gotten worse, the mayor said Monday. "The status quo isn't working." Webb's proposal notes that more than 70 percent of the 409 Denverarea women who are HIVpositive were infected by injecting drugs or by having sex with men who inject drugs. Threefourths of children in the Denver area with HIV acquired the disease through their HIVinfected mothers. Six federally funded studies have concluded that needleexchange programs reduce HIV transmission and don't increase drug use, the proposal states. Only three exchange programs would be allowed in Denver, and those would be required to register with the Denver Department of Environmental Health. The proposal calls for the programs to be at least 1 mile apart and not be within 500 feet of a residential area or school. Participants and program workers would be required to carry identification cards. Rules and regulations governing the programs would be worked out by the Denver Board of Environmental Health through a series of meetings in which the public could participate. The ordinance wouldn't be effective until Colorado lawmakers amend the state law on possession of drug paraphernalia. After an attempt to change the state paraphernalia law was defeated in the Legislature in February, public health officials began meeting with various groups to try again. "We picked up last year's legislation and formed a pretty broad group to work on a similar piece of legislation," said Patti Shwayder, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. One message that "got lost" last year, Shwayder said, was that "these programs have been effective in getting drug users and abusers into treatment." So the proponents worked with several groups to outline the benefits of the strategy. Webb said he plans to testify before the Legislature next year "to ask them to give us the option" to establish the programs. There are currently more than 75 needleexchange programs across the country. One began in 1989 in Boulder County after District Attorney Alex Hunter said his office would not prosecute workers and participants.