This week, the Denver-based Hep C Connection will do all it can -- legally -- to get dirty needles off the streets. Beginning today, the organization is hosting its first-ever Drop To Stop week, where anyone can anonymously drop off used syringes at eight separate locations around Denver and in Aurora, Grand Junction and Fort Collins. The dirty needles will be disposed of properly, ensuring they don't end up in a dumpster or park.
Getting rid of dirty needles, which can be tainted with blood-borne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, is only half the battle. The other half, advocates say, is making sure the people who use needles -- especially intravenous drug users -- have access to clean ones.
However, handing out clean needles is illegal in Colorado, an issue explored in the recent Westword feature "Why doesn't Colorado get the point of needle exchange programs?" One local group, called USED, has gone underground in order to provide clean needles to junkies in need.
But Hep C Connection can't do that.
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For now, they're sticking with Drop To Stop. They first tried the idea last year when they hosted two Drop To Stop days. During the first, they collected 237 dirty needles, said Laura Ginnett, the organization's director of community outreach. During the second, they pulled in 1,601.
Based on that success, they decided to expand Drop To Stop to a week this year, Ginnett says. The dates coincide with Hepatitis Awareness Month. It's estimated that 76,000 Coloradans are infected with hepatitis C, which attacks the liver. That's seventeen times the number of Coloradans with AIDS. Many of them are IV drug users; health officials say as many as 90 percent of drug users are infected.
But Ginnett emphasizes that anyone who uses needles can drop them off. That includes diabetics, veterinarians, people undergoing hormone treatments and acupuncturists. "We wanted it to be anonymous and feel safe," Ginnett says.
For more information, call 720-917-3960.