On May 16, the Boulder County Board of Health passed a resolution that officially recognizes Boulder County Public Health’s long-standing syringe exchange program.
Last year, the Colorado legislature passed a bill to legalize syringe programs across the state. Now, with approval from local officials, Boulder can say it’s the first county to implement the law. With the program’s legacy of 22 years in Boulder, legitimizing it was not especially complicated. Boulder County Public Health Outreach Program Coordinator Carol Helwig said that other areas of Colorado with similar needs are likely to also put this legislation into action.
“We’re sure other programs are going to follow,” Helwig said. “First in Denver and then Fort Collins will probably work on their own programming.”
The Works program has provided assistance for drug users in an attempt to combat the spread of disease. Until now, the service was only allowed to exist through an agreement with local officials and law enforcement.
“My predecessors were the true visionaries here,” Helwig said. “In spite of the law they were still going to make this type of programming to exist.”
Users enrolled in the program can visit any of three locations in Boulder or Longmont to trade in old syringes for clean paraphernalia and other sanitary necessities. The volunteer staff also teaches clients about safe application methods and how to avoid disease.
“Really the message we want to send out is that it’s not just the needle you don’t want to share,” Helwig said. “You want to keep everything else personal and clean too.”
Facilities offer testing for diseases like HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and Hepatitis D. The general community is also encouraged to visit a location to get tested.
“Providing access to clean syringes and encouraging testing and treatment is one of the most effective evidence-based practices to stop the spread of infectious diseases,” said BCPH Executive Director Jeff Zayach in a press release.
Without any legislation the program could not receive much financial support for operation in the past. Now, with the official recognition from Boulder and the state, The Works will be eligible for grants and other funding.
Following the approval of the program, community members have raised concerns about the program’s support of user habits instead of rehabilitating them. Critics say that such an institution might increase drug use rather than combat it. But members of BCPH say their main goals are to keep needles out of waterways, help prevent the spread of disease and offer a safe haven for community members without other options. Helwig said that clients are grateful for the assistance that The Works provides.
“I hear from a lot of clients that they definitely appreciate our services,” Helwig said. “Sometimes they say that this is the first time they are treated with dignity and respect from this type of institution…I think that’s really important.”