Source: Rocky Mountain News Contact: Pubdate: Tue, 9 Dec 1997 COUNCIL BACKS NEEDLE EXCHANGE But Program Won't Start Unless Legislature Ends State Ban On Possession Of Drug Paraphernalia By Ann Imse, Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer The Denver City Council backed a plan Monday to allow drug users to trade dirty needles for clean ones in hopes of slowing the spread of AIDS. Council members split 83 on the issue. They were torn between a desire to save lives and the fear they might encourage drug use and damage neighborhoods where the needle exchanges are located. Council members Ed Thomas, Susan BarnesGelt and Ted Hackworth voted against it. The program, proposed by Mayor Wellington Webb, will not be enacted unless a state law prohibiting possession of drug paraphernalia is changed. The legislature rejected such a change this year. The needle exchange is aimed at preventing AIDS, hepatitis and other blood borne illnesses transmitted by the sharing of intravenous needles. Addicts, in turn, infect their mates and children. Six studies funded by the fedreal government have said that needle exchanges reduce HIV transmission and do not increase drug use, said Theresa Donahue, the city's environmental health director. AIDS victim Shannon Behning testified that she might have been protected by such a program. She said she was infected by her thenfiance, who abused drugs without her knowledge. Resident Kathy Griswold argued against the plan, saying, "I believe a lot of children are not experimenting with IV drugs solely because of fear of AIDS." Police union spokesman Kirk Miller pleaded for the neighborhoods where the exchage programs may someday be located. "If drug users are coming from all over the city to shoot heroin into their arms, that's got to create a problem for the neighborhood," he said. Donahue said the needle exchanges would be placed in areas already overrun with addicts. Dr. Lisa Darton of Denver Health Medical Center said the needle exchanges would offer counseling and treatment. Now, only about 1,000 of 10,000 addicts in Denver are being treated, she said. The needle program could reach 1,200 to 1,600 more, Donahue said. Donahue said the three sites envisioned in Denver would cost about $169,000 a year in private funds to operate, while treating an AIDS patient now costs a mininum of $250,000. Opponents, including Councilman Thomas, doubted the assurances that drug use would not increase. Thomas also worries that the exchange programs would draw more addicts to Denver from surrounding communities. Councilwoman Susan Casey spoke for the majority, however, when she said that despite the drawbacks, "We have to try. Let's save some lives in Denver."