Got Needles?

This post illustrates a petition I started last year on which came to be after I read a shocking and offensive article in Colorado Springs’ The Gazette newspaper, in which the writer discusses the Mayor at that time’s position on the always brought to the floor but always rejected bill, rewritten each time it gets brought before the floor, trying to get a needle exchange program in the City of Colorado Springs, a city boasting nearly 700,000 people. This is my petition:

Heroin use is an epidemic here in Colorado Springs like I have never seen in my life, and being that I’m from Sacramento, California, that says a lot. Sacramento has well over twice the people in your city, a less serious heroin epidemic, yet there are currently a minimum of three needle exchange programs in Sacramento County while Colorado Springs does not offer a single one.

According to Colorado Public Radio, a public radio station serving the entire state, reported in January 2015 the following disturbing statistics on the heroin epidemic in Colorado:

Since 2008, there has been a 27 percent increase among 18 to 24 year olds in the state using heroin, according to the Colorado Department of Human Services.

These statistics are not merely shocking; they are staggering and even more, being irresponsibly addressed by the Colorado Health Department.

There is only one methadone clinic here in the Springs, yet with the population of Colorado Springs, there should be a minimum of 2-3 clinics within the city limits alone, particularly considering the size of this town and how incredibly spread out it is. Having a single methadone clinic, and worse, one which does not accept Colorado Medicaid, and is priced higher than the national average, is simply unacceptable. There are over ten methadone clinics in the Greater Sacramento Metropolitan area, not including those in outlying areas of Sacramento.

The current lack of a needle exchange program, further worsened by the inadequate availability of methadone clinics in Colorado Springs, gives heroin addicts very little choice but to continue their heroin use, and to do so using nonsterile needles. Consider the unnerving thought of even one single heroin addict who is wanting to quit, but due to unavailable and necessary heroin addiction programs, these addicts are in fact being encouraged by this city, to continue their drug use. That is one of the most disgusting things I have ever considered with regard to a public issue, simply because public health and public safety in this city is now put at-risk. This has been an  ongoing saga here in Colorado Springs for many, many years and cannot be brushed aside and treated like it doesn’t exist any longer. Your continued failure, Mayor Suthers, to make a decision and act on it in regard to this growing public health issue, shows a complete lack of compassion and regard for the citizens of Colorado Springs, and needs to be addressed with haste.

As the number of heroin users increases, the number of those users who are unable to purchase new needles increases, leaving them one option: dirty and badly bent needles. See the article below in The Gazette, where El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen details her position regarding city-funded needle exchange programs:

The Gazette: Health Board Nixes Needle Exchange Startup in Colorado Springs

Before simply undermining the concept of a countywide needle exchange program, imagine for moment if you will, one of your family members being a regular (daily) heroin abuser using needles, and how it would affect your family if this family member was unable financially to purchase new needles so used non-sterile needles shared with other heroin users. Are you aware of the many serious health problems which can arise as a result of using non-sterile needles? There are a number of serious health conditions and diseases associated directly with the use of used, bent and or dirty (nonsterile) needles, including hepatitis B/C, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), among others. Then there’s the risk of abscesses, which can later turn into something more serious, accidental exposure to contaminated needles by medical staff, needles being improperly disposed of, particularly in places the public has access to, the risk of infections of the blood; the list goes on and on. Disposable needles,  often used by Type I diabetics, include those manufactured by BD, have a shockingly low annual cost per user of person, of less than $20. 

Let’s discuss for a moment a few of the alternative to a needle exchange program: the annual health cost per user for medical treatment of various complications arising from the use of dirty, bent needles:

  • $15,745 annually to treat one patient infected with HIV
  • Lifetime cost for treatment of HIV: $303,000-$619,000 per person 
  • Cumulative annual cost in 1995 alone of treating patients with HIV/AIDS: $15.2 billion

And as history often shows, we have been forced to acknowledge, though not always changing our current actions as a result, the power of hindsight:

  •  According to the Drug Reform Coordination Network, in one month in 1992 San Francisco, the Prevention Point NEP disposed of a staggering 8,600 used syringes infected with HIV
  • By 1994, 125,000 people had developed AIDS as a result of the use of nonsterile needles

Interesting statistics often ignored, clearly the case in Colorado Springs:

  • 1/3 of new HIV cases arise from the use of a non-sterile or shared needle
  • In a 1992 study of needle exchange clients in New Haven, Connecticut, new HIV infections were cut by 1/3   

This is what I find most disturbing: the annual cost to provide sterile needles for one IV-drug user? Less than $20. 

The loss overall caused by the lack of a county or city funded needle exchange program is greater than just money. It also causes the unnecessary
loss of many lives, and the suffering of those living with one of the many infections which can arise from the use of a non-sterile needle. This would be so simple to prevent. You have a responsibility as a public official of this city, to look out for its citizens. You have failed at this in the past.

I implore you, Mayor Suthers, just as have the many people and groups before me, to immediately establish a needle exchange program here in Colorado Springs, just as the City of Pueblo has done within the last five years opened two needle exchange programs.


Jennifer Stockton

Thanks for reading!


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