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Denver's underground needle exchange raises some dough

USED, Denver's underground syringe exchange program and the subject of the recent Westword feature ""Why Doesn't Colorado Get the Point of Needle Exchange Programs?," will be able to stay afloat a little bit longer thanks to a fundraiser that netted the small group $1,006 -- or as one USED member put it, "A thousand dollars and a burrito."

USED's mission is to swap injection drug users' used needles for clean ones in order to stop the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. But their work is illegal in Colorado, where laws prohibit the possession of drug syringes. So USED, which began more than a year ago, operates underground and off the radar of the police, as advocates work with lawmakers above ground to change the rules.

Given USED's clandestine nature, it's been tough for the group to get funding. They'd been surviving on a one-time $4,500 grant, which they used to buy the clean needles and other injection supplies they hand out. But the money was running out, so USED decided to host its first fundraiser two weeks ago.

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The event was held at a local coffee shop, and USED invited just friends and family. About 100 people came to see a preview of a documentary about the group and listen to a presentation by USED's eight members. There was also a Q&A, and after taking several questions, the USED folks auctioned off six pairs of USED underwear -- colorful briefs screenprinted with USED's logo. Two of the pairs went for $45 each.

The money raised by the underwear auction -- as well as T-shirt sales and general donations -- will go directly back into the program, USED members say. All the members are volunteers, so the cash will be used solely to buy supplies.

USED also recently set up an e-mail address: used303@gmail.com. Anyone interested in donating to the clean-needle cause can contact the group there. The word is that a website will be up and running shortly. Stay tuned.

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