Source: Rocky Mountain News
Contact:  Tue, 9 Dec 1997

Needle Exchange Needs United Front, Official Says

Boulder doesn't enforce state paraphernalia ban because team decided safety
was first priority

By Bill Scanlon
Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

BOULDER  The state's only needle exchange program succeeds because the
district attorney won't enforce state laws prohibiting drug paraphernalia,
the county's AIDS Prevention Project coordinator said Monday.

District Attorney Alex Hunter and local lawmakers agree with social workers
that program has saved lives by preventing the spread of deadly diseases,
such as AIDS, coordinator Kyle Hutchison said.

Each month in Boulder County, 90 intravenous drug users exchange dirty
needles for new ones. Users can get new needles 24 hours a day at the
county's addict recovery detoxification unit, Hutchison said. Or, they can
arrange to meet one of three outreach workers who deliver clean needles to
addicts countywide.

"They've self reported safer behavior," Hutchison said of participants in
the program, which began in 1989. "There are fewer needle sharing
encounters. There is better needle hygiene."

Needle exchange proponents argue the programs save lives and money by
cutting the number of people infected by life threatening diseases
transmitted by dirty needles.

They say Denver can run a program for 250 addicts for a year for less than
the cost of treating one HIV positive patient.

Several federal studies have indicated some decrease in drug use among
addicts in needle exchange programs, but no reliable studies have yet judged
the long term effects of the programs.

Needle exchange is just one plank in a six part effort to help the lives of
drug abusers, Hutchison said. Counseling and testing are integral to the
full program.

If Denver city council members approve a needle exchange program, it won't
go into effect unless a proposed change in state law is approved.

By contrast, Boulder County's program has lasted eight years even though
state law makes it a crime to possess drug paraphernalia.

"This has lasted because some very open minded people came together and said
this wasn't just a legal issue, but an important public health issue,"
Hutchison said.