Pubdate: Wed, 15 Oct 1997 Source: Denver Post Contact: Webpage: http://www.denverpost.com Cop union against needle exchange By Ann Schrader Denver Post Medical/Science Writer Oct. 15 Mayor Wellington Webb's proposed needle exchange ordinance sends the wrong message in the war against drugs, the Denver Police Protective Association said Tuesday. "We're just legitimizing the illegal use of drugs," Kirk Miller, the association's legislative liaison, said of the proposal to amend the municipal code to allow up to three programs to exchange clean needles for dirty ones. The 1,260member organization plans to fight the ordinance, which will be discussed today by a city council subcommittee and could go to the full council on Oct. 27. Webb has outlined an ordinance that would amend the municipal code to allow oneforone swaps of needles. The goal is to fight the spread of AIDS and other bloodborne diseases, particularly among children. In a news conference Tuesday, Webb said he is "violently opposed" to legalizing drugs. The proposal, which wouldn't be effective unless the state drug paraphernalia law is changed, would occur in a "very restricted environment." Webb noted that the ordinance only allows registered and approved programs to handle the exchanges. The programs would "provide a conduit to reduce dirty needles" on the streets, he said, "and with the hope and desire that these individuals enter treatment." Paul Simons, director of People Engaged in Education and Reduction Strategies, said his group definitely would apply for a license to operate a needle exchange. Minimal city money would be involved. Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter said the state district attorney council has taken the position that needleexchange programs are a public health issue and is looking to the Legislature for guidance. "As long as there are laws on the books, we will prosecute," Ritter said. "But if people carve out an exception in the drug paraphernalia laws for needleexchange programs, we will respect that exception." Miller said the number of needles on the street would proliferate and would pose a hazard to officers. In addition, the identification cards proposed for the program wouldn't have photos and wouldn't carry complete information, so they could be easily abused. Webb said he didn't talk with Denver police chief Dave Michaud Tuesday before his announcement and that Michaud was out of town. The mayor added that when he discussed needle exchanges a year ago with Michaud, there was a "reluctance on the part of the Denver Police Department, and I suspect there is still reluctance" to support the needleexchange concept. Webb speculated that the reluctance comes from fear about whether the programs undermine police in battling drugs. "Since our last discussion, there are just as many needles out there," Webb said, and the numbers of children being infected through injecting drug use by their mothers or their mothers' partners are increasing. Webb insisted that proposing needleexchange programs does not mean he has accepted defeat in the battle against drugs. "You have to address life as it is is. You also have to address the issue of not letting it (AIDS) spread," he said. Julian Rush, director of the Colorado AIDS Project, said, "We're not in the business of keeping people on drugs, ... the first step is to make sure no one else gets infected.''