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Colorado: Exchange of Heart

April 14, 2011

A newly amended Denver ordinance could enable up to three syringe-exchange programs to operate legally under a permit system. Last month, the City Council amended a 1997 ordinance on SEPs, dropping both a one-for-one exchange provision and a requirement that clients carry ID cards. Denver's Department of Environmental Health is creating rules for certification.


The Harm Reduction Action Center (HRAC) intends to apply for certification. Last year, it disposed of 21,000 used syringes but could not provide clean syringes to its clients, including many homeless drug users.

Twenty-two years ago, Boulder County authorized an SEP operated through its health department. Denver reportedly has just one underground, illicit SEP. The city amendment builds on a state law passed last year that creates an exemption to drug paraphernalia laws, allowing SEP operators to legally possess syringes.

"We're a public health agency that deals with reality," said Lisa Raville, director of HRAC. "The reality is people have been using drugs for years and years. We just want to keep people safe."

About 10,000 injection drug users live in the metro area, and Denver Public Health estimates 73 percent have hepatitis C and 5 percent have HIV. "If injectors use clean syringes every time they inject, the risk of transmission of these diseases drops to zero," said Mark Thrun, director of HIV/STD prevention and control at DPH.

Had SEPs been accessible in the past, "I believe I would be virus-free today," said Ruth Kanatser, HRAC's senior health educator. She has been drug-free for 10 years, but she contracted hepatitis C while using. "I had already been seeking knowledge about how to stay safe, and I really think [SEPs] would have helped me."

Back to other news for April 2011

Adapted from:
Denver Post
04.12.2011; Kurtis Lee

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More HIV Prevention Policy News on the Western U.S.

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