September 15, 2011
The Southern Colorado AIDS Project (SCAP) continues to work with local officials to determine the feasibility of a needle-exchange program (NEP) in El Paso County.
For several months, SCAP representatives have been in discussions with personnel from the police and sheriff's departments, the district attorney's office, and the health department regarding the potential need for an NEP, and how one might operate. It would be up to El Paso County Public Health (EPCPH) to decide on moving forward, said SCAP Executive Director Richard Blair. "It's really in the infancy stage," he said. "There are a lot of small components that have to come together first."
Colorado's paraphernalia laws have had the effect of making NEPs illegal, though Boulder County has had an exchange since 1989. Last year, the state Legislature passed a measure exempting employees and volunteers with NEPs from those laws. Now, Denver County is launching a program, and Larimer County is considering one, said Blair.
"It's comprehensive harm-reduction services," said Carol Helwig, Boulder County Public Health's HIV/STI outreach coordinator. "We do hepatitis C and HIV counseling, and link clients to treatment, if they're at the point where they're ready and want to access those services." She added, "If you prevent one HIV infection, you're saving a quarter of a million dollars in medical care."
EPCPH does not keep data on IV drug use in the county, though AspenPointe Health Services' Cheryl Stine said its outpatient program has seen an increase in visits by injectors.