Syringe access program distributes more than 100,000 clean needles in 2012

Colorado's largest legal syringe access program gave out 116,671 clean needles in 2012 -- and safely disposed of 71,323 dirty ones.

An infographic of statistics from the Harm Reduction Action Center's first ten months of operation (it began exchanging needles from its location in Denver last February) also shows that 73 percent of the injection drug users who access the services are male and about three-quarters of them began using before they were 25 years old. Continue to see the full infographic.

But while many began using young, the program's statistics show that most users wait until they're at least 25 years old before accessing the syringe services. In fact, the average age of a person at intake in 2012 was 35. Director Lisa Raville says that while the program is reaching increasing numbers of young people, it would like to reach more -- especially since people are more likely to contract hepatitis C from sharing needles within the first six months to a year of their injection drug use.

"That can be a difficult group, because they think they're still invincible," Raville says.

A mobile syringe exchange would be one way to expand the program's impact, she says. Though mobile exchanges -- in which programs use vans to drive around and distribute clean needles -- are permitted by state law, a Denver city ordinance prohibits them. Raville says the Harm Reduction Action Center plans to ask the city council to change that.

Since its founding in 2002, the Harm Reduction Action Center has been advocating for policy changes. It was instrumental in helping to pass a 2010 bill to legalize needle exchanges in Colorado. (They were previously illegal, as explained in our 2009 cover story, "Ahead of the Needle.") In 2011, the center pushed for changes to Denver's ordinance to make syringe access programs easier to operate in the city.

This year, it's backing a bill that would allow doctors to prescribe drugs that can counter the effects of an opiate overdose to the family members or friends of injection drug users. The idea is that those people would be in the best position to administer the so-called "opiate antagonist" drug in an overdose situation. In the past year, Raville says that the Harm Reduction Action Center has seen eighteen lives saved thanks to these types of drugs, known as naloxone or Narcan, because the user had a prescription. But as someone who works with injection drug users, Raville would also like one in her name.

"We have an overdose memorial that has been growing, and we're tired of that," she says.

The Harm Reduction Action Center, located at 733 Santa Fe Drive, provides syringe access services Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. Check out the infographic of the center's 2012 statistics below.

2012 Harm Reduction Action Center Syringe Access Report

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Alex Landau frustrated by cop reinstatement, latest delay in bloody beating investigation."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at [email protected]

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar