May 11, 2011
Boulder County's Board of Health recently approved the first legal syringe exchange program in Colorado. Last year, state legislators created an exemption to Colorado's drug paraphernalia law so local jurisdictions could adopt SEPs, Boulder officials said.
Boulder County Public Health's SEP had operated for 22 years under an agreement with the local district attorney and police, under the radar of state paraphernalia laws. "It has been a very long time coming, but we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to operate under full legal protection, not just at a local level, but at a state level as well," said Carol Helwig, BCPH's HIV/STI outreach coordinator.
Lawmakers initially feared legalized SEPs would encourage drug use, said Jeff Zayach, BCPH's executive director. "There is evidence that shows these types of programs actually reduce drug use [and] increase treatment," he noted.
The Denver-based Harm Reduction Action Center and BCPH have been distributing clean "cookers," rubber tourniquets, cotton, and other injection supplies. Before state law changed, HRAC could test clients for HIV and hepatitis C, "but the one thing that will keep them safe -- to use a fresh syringe every time they shoot -- [we could not] do that," said HRAC's Lisa Raville.
"As a service provider, it has been very frustrating, so this is an incredibly large step for our community," Raville said.
HRAC is now requesting state approval to become one of three Denver SEPs.
For more information about the Boulder program, visit: www.bouldercounty.org/apps/newsroom/templates/bc.aspx?articleid=2633&zoneid=5.