Colorado is one of just 17 US states that do not allow needle exchanges, but that could change under a bill before the Colorado Senate. The bill, SB 189, would allow local health departments to exchange dirty needles for clean ones in a bid to slow the spread of blood-borne diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C among injection drug users.
"This is intended to be a public health measure to stop the spread of infectious diseases," lead sponsor Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) told ABC 7 News.
But the bill is generating opposition from solons who fear it will enable drug use. "It does give kind of a wink and a nod towards the use of illegal drugs," said Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud), who opposes the measure. "My common sense says a needle exchange program is a de facto drug legalization and I'm not going to go there. We've got a problem with illegal drugs," he said. "Let's not make it worse by saying maybe, sort of, kind of, you can do it."
"No one's condoning illegal drug use," Steadman retorted. "No one's saying, 'Go have a good time.' What we're saying is, 'Please be safe.'"
Under current Colorado law, groups are allowed to collect used syringes, but not exchange them for clean ones. The only city in the state that allows for needle exchanges is Boulder, which passed a 1989 law exempting some groups from prosecution for doing exchanges.
That doesn't mean there is no needle exchange in Denver, the state's largest city. The Underground Syringe Exchange of Denver (USED) has been doing exchanges since 2008 and has handed out more than 11,000 needles to drug users.
"We remove syringes off the streets of Denver," said USED member Chris Conner. "They wind up in our dumpsters. They wind up thrown away in public bathrooms or discarded in parks," he said. "So this is a public health issue for all of us."