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


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

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."