After 22 Years, Boulder County Needle Exchange Program Now Legal

State Allows Counties To Create Programs

After 22 years of exchanging needles, the process is now legal in Boulder County.

Boulder County's Board of Health has approved the Boulder County Public Health syringe exchange program. It is the first approved syringe exchange program in Colorado.

"We've been doing this for 22 years, now it's legal," Chana Goussetis with Boulder County told 7NEWS.

In the past, the needle exchange program was operated under an agreement with the district attorney and police to overlook the paraphernalia law, Goussetis said.

In 2010, Colorado lawmakers created an exemption in Colorado’s drug paraphernalia law allowing counties to legally adopt syringe exchange programs through a local approval process, according to Boulder officials.

"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 HIV/STI Outreach Program Coordinator.

Jeff Zayach, executive director of Boulder County Public Health, said lawmakers at first feared the law would encourage drug use.

"There is evidence that shows these type of programs actually reduce drug use (and) increase treatment," said Zayach.

Lisa Raville, of Harm Reduction Action Center in Denver, pushed for this law.

"We are able to give them all the legal harm reduction supplies," said Raville. "I can test them for HIV and hepatitis C, but the one thing that will keep them safe -- to use a fresh syringe every time they shoot -- I can't do. As a service provider it has been very frustrating, so this is an incredibly large step for our community."

Harm Reduction Action Center and Boulder County Public Health have always handed out clean "cookers," rubber arm wraps, cotton and other items used when using injectables in an attempt to reduce transmission of diseases.

Raville said Harm Reduction Action Center is now applying with the state to be one of three syringe exchange locations in the city of Denver.

"Syringe exchange is the best intervention to successfully eliminate HIV and hep C in our community," said Raville. "It is a public health issue."

For more information on needle exchanges, contact Carol Helwig at 303-413-7522 or visit Boulder County Health's website.

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