Not only will there not be a needle exchange program in El Paso County soon, there probably won't be one for many years to come.
Today, Dec. 4, the El Paso County Board of Health decided not to schedule a vote on the program or hear further presentations. That means it's relegated to the trash can.
Although it was informal, the board took a straw vote in order to advise staff how to proceed.
Those expressing a desire to kill the needle exchange idea at the Dec. 4 meeting were County Commissioners Peggy Littleton and Longinos Gonzalez; retired U.S. Navy surgeon James Terbush; nurse Vicki Broerman and Doris Ralston, CEO of the Colorado Springs Osteopathic Foundation.
Voting to keep consideration alive: Manitou Springs Mayor Pro Tem Coreen Toll; Colorado Springs City Council President Richard Skorman; Kari Kilroy, executive assistant to Memorial Hospital’s CEO, and County Coroner Robert Bux.
Toll's term ends this year, and given her support of the program, it's unlikely she'll be given another term by county commissioners, who appoint the board.
Why? Because the commission voted unanimously on Nov. 30 to oppose the program. Though nonbinding, the resolution adopted by commissioners said needle exchange programs “can be seen as facilitating dangerous and destructive drug abuse” and that “government sponsored syringe exchange programs [are] not in the best interest of Colorado citizens.”
That position, which also is embraced by Sheriff Bill Elder, runs contrary to the Centers for Disease Control’s stance
that such programs comprise “an effective component of a comprehensive, integrated approach to HIV prevention....” They’ve also been linked to reduced risk for infection with hepatitis C virus, CDC says, and provide a bridge to critical services and treatment for a plethora of ailments, including sexual transmitted diseases and tuberculosis.
Commissioners’ resolution, proposed by Littleton, asserted that “better enforcement, outreach and education, intervention and treatment, and other preventative measures are needed to stop the alarming increase in drug related crimes, accidents and deaths” and that without referrals to treatment program, needle exchanges are ineffective.
Most other Front Range cities have needle exchange programs in an era in which hepatitis C is spreading and opioid use is skyrocketing.
"We're done," Kilroy told the Independent
after the meeting. "There's an issue of rising disease of hepatitis C and there's an issue of needles being found in our community. The state maintains that health boards approve needle exchange programs. There's really no where else for us to go."
Nothing is likely to change for years, she says, given Toll’s expiring term.
"They have already made their wishes completely known," Kilroy says of commissioners, "so it's a good bet whoever they seat would not be in favor of it."
Kilroy said the Board of Health voted 6-2 in 2013 to postpone consideration of the needle exchange program, with she and Fountain City Council member Sharon Brown voting against postponement. Those voting for postponement were then-Commissioner Sallie Clark, Broerman, Bux, C.J. Moore, then-Colorado Springs Councilor Helen Collins and Terbush. Then-Commissioner Amy Lathen was absent.