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Proposed needle exchange on S. 21st would be first in county; meeting Dec. 4

Nov. 30, 2017
       A proposal for a hypodermic needle exchange program in the Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church building, 1102 S. 21st St., will go before the El Paso County Board of Health Monday, Dec. 4.
       If the proposal is eventually approved, - no vote is to be taken at the board meeting - it would be the first of its kind in El Paso. Only four other counties (including Pueblo) currently allow needle exchanges.
The Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church faces onto Broadway Street (foreground) off South 21st Street (left). The entrance for the proposed needle exchange program would be on the 21st Street side of the building.
Westside Pioneer photo
A state law authorizes such programs in any state's county, but only if approved by its Board of Health.
       The plan is by the Colorado Health Network (CHN), formerly the Southern Colorado AIDS Project.
       The board's meeting will start at 7:30 a.m. at the county's Citizens Service Center, 1675 W. Garden of the Gods Road, in the first-floor Assessor's Classroom. The agenda item is titled "Syringe Access Program" and will be heard under New Business, with a note beside it saying "no vote will be taken."
       A needle exchange allows intravenous drug users to bring in used syringes and be given new ones at no cost to them. In this case, there would also be no cost to county taxpayers, according to Jessica Kobylinski, the CHN programs quality officer.
       “We have the staff, the equipment and the location,” she said. “All we need is the go-ahead.”
       The program would support the CHN mission to “prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C,” which can be caused by dirty needles, she explained. The community would benefit, she asserted, by reducing the number of syringes currently found by creeks and trails.
       A similar proposal was rejected by El Paso County's Board of Health in 2013. The location would have been at the CHN office at 1301 S. 8th St. Opponents at that time expressed concern that approval would lead to increased drug use as well as calls for emergency services.
       A current Westside opponent is Welling Clark, president of a community advocacy group, the Alliance for the Historic Westside. He supported a resolution in opposition by County Commissioner Peggy Littleton, which was passed by the commission Nov. 30. Her resolution, which has no legal power, includes the points that County Sheriff Bill Elder is “adamantly opposed,” and “research concludes that standalone needle exchange programs are ineffective without referrals to drug treatment programs.”
       Although Kobylinski claimed that, leading up to the Dec. 4 Board of Health meeting, CHN staff attempted to contact residences and businesses in the area around the church building - as well as Midland Elementary about a quarter of a mile away - Clark said that was insufficient. Outreach should also have included community entities such as the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), Avenue Merchants, the Gold Hill Mesa development, Avenue Task Force and Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA) business group, he said.
       Clark himself, the former president of OWN, had only heard about the plan less than a week before the meeting, he noted.
       “Before any such facility should be placed anywhere in El Paso County, there needs to be a valid and transparent public process and proper assessment including a detailed plan, with community and surrounding impact of the facility,” Clark said. “Our Westside community has been working to improve the quality of life on the Westside for decades, and this potential facility is of great concern to the residents and local businesses.”
       Kobylinski added that people coming in for new needles would also be given the option of talking to CHN staff trained in mental health and substance abuse.
       But the word “exchange” is not quite accurate, she clarified, because regardless of how many needles are brought in, people will be given as many clean ones as they feel they need.
       She also clarified that a website at nascen.org, which shows CHN's Eighth Street address as a current needle exchange location, is inaccurate. This statement was corroborated by Danielle Oller, spokesperson for the El Paso County Health Department.
       Kobylinski said the church building was chosen in part for geographic reasons, because it has a bus stop nearby and the location is in a fairly open area, not far from the downtown. The CHN program would have an office in the building, accessible through a side door. The church supports the idea as part of its intent to be “inclusive” to all people, Kobylinski said.

Westside Pioneer article
(Community: Ongoing Issues)

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