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Needle Exchange Bill Dies in Colorado House


March-April 1997

On February 19, the Colorado House of Representatives defeated a bill (HB 1289) that would have allowed communities to permit nonprofit agencies to conduct needle exchanges to reduce the spread of HIV and encourage substance abuse treatment for drug addicts (Dan Luzadder, "House Kills Needle-Exchange Bill," Rocky Mountain News (Denver), February 20, 1997, p. 4A; Michael Romano, "Agencies Clash Over Needle Exchange," Rocky Mountain News (Denver), February 20, 1997, p. 15A).

House Republicans defeated the Democratic-sponsored bill, which would have allowed drug addicts to legally obtain clean needles. Program participants who carry required identification cards could not be charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. Under the current law, that offense carries a $100 fine and arrest. The bill was aimed to decrease the transmission of HIV due to the sharing of dirty needles by intravenous drug users, and later spreading to their partners and babies.

Representative Jeanne Adkins (R-Parker), a major opponent of the bill, criticized it for aiming "simply to prevent the spread of AIDS." She said, "If people who go into a drug treatment program are smart enough to ask for a clean needle, they are smart enough to know how HIV is transmitted." Adkins said the bill would put the state in the position of encouraging drug use by providing free needles. Rep. Gary McPherson (R-Aurora) said, "That money would be better spent trying to get people off drugs.".

A few hours before the legislation died, the state Board of Health voted unanimously to support exemptions to Colorado's drug paraphernalia laws allowing for clean needle exchanges. The bill was also supported by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the House Judiciary Committee (Dan Luzadder, "House committee OKs needles-for-addicts bill," Rocky Mountain News (Denver), February 7, 1997, p. 18A; House committee OKs needles-for-addicts bill," Rocky Mountain News (Denver), February 7, 1997, p. 18A).

According to Paul Simons, director of People Engaged in Education and Reduction Programs (PEERS), a nonprofit group that promotes AIDS awareness among intravenous drug users, some House members ignored the scientific evidence. Five national studies using data from 100 needle-exchange programs in 20 states have shown a decrease in HIV transmission without a significant increase in intravenous drug use. Simons said the bill would have saved lives and saved taxpayers money because treating an AIDS patients from diagnosis to death has an average cost of $190,000. Simons, who helped draft and promote the legislation, said that it would also protect people who never use drugs but who risk infection because they step on or pick up infected needles (Needle-Swap Proponent Bitter Oer Bill's Defeat," Rocky Mountain News, February 20, 1997, p. 4A).

An editorial by the Denver Post called the vote a "blatant display of partisan politics" that "will waste taxpayer dollars and human lives." (Editorial, "Deadly Partisanship Kills Anti-AIDS Bill," Denver Post, February 21, 1997, p. 6B)

Contact PEERS at 2701 Alcott Street, Suite 263/264, Denver, CO 80211, Tel: (303) 455-2472, Fax: (303) 455-2548.