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Colorado county's program prioritizes health over drug charges

The last thing that an illegal drug user would probably want to do is show a government official his or her drug paraphernalia. Not only that, but they probably wouldn't dare to ask a government official for more equipment to support their addiction. Those scenarios sound like drug charges just waiting to happen.

That is why some are surprised by a program that one Colorado county has implemented over the past 22 years. Boulder County has what's called a syringe exchange program. It is set up so that drug users can safely dispose of their dirty needles by dropping them off at the county's public health office and then receive new, clean needles.

Why would Boulder County Public Health want to offer such a program? And why would the state of Colorado recently have formally approved such a program? The goal of the syringe exchange is reportedly to protect public health. Public safety is apparently more important to the county than arresting suspects for possession of drug paraphernalia.

Through dirty syringes, drug users can become infected with extremely serious and infectious diseases, such as HIV and Hepatitis C. And it's not just the users whose lives are at risk. Depending on where dirty needles are disposed of, anyone could accidently become infected by a contaminated needle. That certainly includes law enforcement.

A Colorado report describes a 1987 case wherein an officer was searching a suspect's car and got stuck by a dirty needle that he didn't see in the vehicle. He had to undergo various medical tests and Hepatitis C treatment and calls the incident one of the scariest of his career.

Shortly after that incident, the syringe exchange program began in Boulder County, but without official state approval. As of Monday, however, that is no longer the case and the program is now state-approved. Supporters of the syringe exchange believe that this recent progress could mean that more drug users will be less afraid to participate in the program and make safety a priority.

Source

Daily Camera: "Boulder County approves state's first syringe exchange," Vanessa Miller, 10 May 2011

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