Pubdate: Mon, 16 Mar 1998
Source: Rocky Mountain News (CO)
Page: 6A
Author: Bill Johnson
Note: Bill Johnson's column appears Sunday, Wednesday and  or 892-2763.


It isn't enough to say simply that they messed up, got it desperately
wrong. Not enough to twist and moan, to vilify, to shout and scream. So
I'll just put it this way to the seven Republican legislators who last week
killed the proposed needle-exchange bill.

Your narrow-mindedness is killing people.

Precisely what is it you didn't get? What didn't you see that the full
state Senate, the mayor, the district attorney, physicians _and_ the dying
saw so clearly? How was it possible to turn a blind eye to their pleas to
adopt the bill, their insistence there was -- in the DA's own words, no
less -- no downside to it, that it would only save lives?

Instead you climbed atop a pale, moral high-horse, closed your eyes and
wished for a world that will never be. People simply are going to stick
intravenous needles into their veins. A sad and lamentable fact, but one
that will never, ever change.

*They will use* others's needles or share their own with others. And they
will contract a deadly disease. They will spread it to their mates, to
their children. All will die. What part of this do you not understand?

You instead play politics with their lives, tout lame, unrealistic
political rhetoric insisting passage of this bill will send a wrong
message, promote immoral lifestyles and condone destructive and suicidal

All of it is a laudable and lofty message, one that plays well on the
television and the stump, but one that simply doesn't cut it on the streets
or in the obstetrics wards where three-fourths of HIV-infected children in
Colorado get that way as a result of injection drug users.

It is, to be certain, a difficult and unsavory task, delving into and
soiling our hands with anything connected to the drug culture, which we
know in a decent society would never exist.

Ultimately the issue does come down to morality, but not the empty
"virtuous lifestyles which foster the respect of life, liberty and
property" morality that Mark Paschall, the Republican representative from
Arvada, used so eloquently to kill the measure.

Needle exchanges exist out of moral compassion. Please don't do this, their
organizers say. If you must, allow us to exchange that dirty needle for a
clean one to save your life, your spouse and children's lives. With the
needle comes drug counseling and treatment information.

*This is all* that you were asked to approve. Not, Mr. Paschall,
"police-free zones" or the legalization of heroin or other drugs. Just a
simple one-for-one exchange of needles. Clean for deadly.

It has worked in Chicago, Baltimore, in--yes--Boulder. There are more than
100 needle-exchange programs in 20 states, and they have all shown a
decrease in drug-related AIDS transmissions without any appreciable rise in
IV drug use.

And it will work in the Denver area as well. Of course, not legally now,
but through acts of civil disobedience, which has a long history in this
country of exposing and correcting social and political nonsense.

Paul Simons, who runs a Denver HIV prevention group, last week explained it
would be better to go to jail than to yet one more funeral for a friend.
He's seen too many people die, he said, people who simply did not have to

That is immoral, representatives. It is immoral to bury your head, pretend
the problem doesn't exist and allow the dying to continue.
For more information, call or write:

People Engaged in Education and Reduction Strategies (PEERS) 2701
Alcott St. #263 Denver, CO 80211