No vote, but Board of Health consensus dulls needle-exchange planDec. 4, 2017
Displeased by a majority of “head nods” by the El Paso County Board of Health Dec. 4, Darrell Vigil, director of the Colorado Health Network (CHN), said after the meeting that his agency will abandon plans to open a needle exchange program in a church at 21st and Broadway streets.
The unofficial tally showed six of the nine board members unwilling to devote more county staff time to the proposal. As a result, “the matter is dead,”
Vigil said his nonprofit organization will instead pursue approval from two counties (Weld and Alamosa) that have “shown interest” in the program. In it, people who inject drugs are given free, clean needles to reduce the use of of dirty ones.
Leading up to Kilroy's summation was a lengthy public-comment session, in which most speakers opposed the idea.
If approved, the program would have been the first in El Paso. A state law authorizes such programs in any state's county, but only if approved by its Board of Health. Colorado Springs is between Denver and Pueblo, which both have CHN needle exchanges.
The “head nod” strategy, suggested by board member Peggy Littleton - who is also a county commissioner - served as a “vote before a vote,” a disappointed Vigil summarized.
Among the majority was Richard Skorman, the Colorado Springs city councilmember for District 3, which takes in the southerly part of the Westside, including Old Colorado City. He said he would favor more public discussion, but - “concerned about how the program would be implemented” - he did not call for more county staff time.
Last week, Littleton had introduced to the county commission a resolution opposing the needle-exchange concept, and the elected body backed her stance unanimously.
Kilroy referenced that vote in her comments, observing also that the commission appoints the members of the Board of Health. This is significant in the context of the head-nods, because one board member favoring the CHN idea, Manitou Springs City Councilmember Coreen Toll, will leave that post after 2017. Commissioners are not likely to appoint a replacement for her who share her needle-exchange view, Kilroy said.
During the meeting, CHN representatives asserted that clean needles help prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C and can even save drug users' lives; also, that incentivizing (although not requiring) the return of needles would mean fewer discarded in public places.
Opponents argued that the program does not demand accountability, that it's not clear if counties with such programs are making progress, and that giving out needles is just a form of enabling that could attract even more drug users to El Paso.
Joining Littleton and Skorman in "nods" that discouraged the CHN plan were Longino Gonzales (also a county commissioner), Doris Ralston, James Terbush and Victoria Broerman. Also with Kilroy and Toll on the other side was Dr. Robert Bux.
CHN had worked out a plan to rent space inside the Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church building, 1102 S. 21st St. CHN continues to run an office - but no needle distribution - in the 1300 block of South Eighth Street.
Welling Clark, a Westside neighborhood activist who had spoken out against the CHN plan beforehand, said in his comments that he was willing to “facilitate a meeting” for citizens and to help gather data to more clearly show whether the program helps or hinders public health.
However, the board's head-nod action, along with Vigil's comments, appeared to render that offer moot.
A similar needle-exchange proposal by CHN (then called the Southern Colorado AIDS Project) had been voted down by El Paso County's Board of Health in 2013.
Westside Pioneer article