Pubdate: Fri, 8 May 1998
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Page: 1B
Author: Ann Schrader Denver Post Medical/Science Writer
Comment: Caption above photo: "If It Saves One Life" Caption beneath photo:
Denver police arrest AIDS activist Paul Simons after he staged a needle
exchange Thursday in Civic Center.


Lawmakers Don't Support Intentions

Frustrated by politcal obstacles to legalizing needle exchange programs in
Colorado, an AIDS activist intentionally set himself up for arrest Thursday
by swapping two clean needles for two contaminated ones.

The morning arrest in Denver's Civic Center carries national significance
because use of federal funds for needle exchanges recently has drawn the
attention of Congress and the Clinton administration.

Paul Simons, 38, was charged with two state counts of possession of drug
paraphernalia. His attorney, David Harrison, said one is a class 2 petty
offense punishable by a $100 fine and the other is a class 2 misdemeanor
that carries a possible one-year jail sentence.

His initial hearing in Denver District Court is set for May 21.

Simons said he turned to an act of civil disobedience "because if it saves
one life, just one, it will be worthwhile."

About 600 Coloradoans have died after being infected with HIV by using
contaminated needles or having been the partner or child of an intravenous
drug user, Simons said. Numerous federally supported studies show that
needle exchange programs can reduce the spread of HIV and other blood-borne
diseases and don't increase drug use, he added.

State drug paraphernalia laws make possession and distribution of clean
syringes illegal. Simons, who in 1995 formed People Engaged in Education
and Reduction Strategies, an HIV harm-reduction group, considered for three
years whether to flaunt the state law.

When a state House committee in March killed a bill that would have allowed
communities to set up needle exchange programs, Simons decided to challenge
the law.

Cohorts contacted police Wednesday about Simons' plan to give an
unidentified man with HIV clean needles in exchange for ones that he said
had HIV- contaminated blood but no drug residue.

"We need to protect the public health and safety," Simons said as Denver
police handcuffed him and wrote out a court summons. "That law is unjust
and we will take it to court to see if it is applicable to needle

State and local officials who have supported needle exchange programs
empathized with Simons but disagreed with his tactic.

"I do not believe in this instance and at this time that an act of civil
disobedience is going to help any of us," said state Sen. Dottie Wham, R-
Denver, who carried this session's needle-exchange proposal.

Wham said she understands that some people "genuinely believe that this is
the wrong way to go. I think a big part of that belief is based on a lack
of understanding of what we tried to do" in setting up locally run,
privately funded programs.

Denver District Attorney Bill Ritter, who testified twice before
legislative committees in favor of Wham's bill, said his duty is to enforce
the laws despite believing that needle exchanges are a public health issue.

"I've never been a cafeteria prosecutor," Ritter said. "The law is the law."

Mayor Wellington Webb promoted a city ordinance, passed by the city council
last fall, allowing the creation of up to three needle exchange programs if
the state law were changed. He also supported Wham's bill.

Webb was out of town Thursday but spokesman Andrew Hudson said, "We
obviously are in support of needle exchanges, but we also are going to
follow the law that requires us to cite people who are participating in
needle exchanges at this point."

"I don't think this is a good way to attract attention to the issue and may
be problematic" for future attempts to change state law, said Patti
Shwayder, state executive health director.

Her department will work to educate lawmakers about the health benefits of
needle exchanges. "Each year we come a lot closer" to amending the state
law, Shwayder said, "but unfortunately, this time it got extremely
political in terms of partisan politics."

The issue also has become very heated on a national level.

The Clinton administration recently decided against spending federal funds
for needle exchanges at the same time saying such programs save lives. The
U.S. House last week voted 287-140 to bar federal money for needle exchange

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