Harm Reduction Action Center could soon become Denver's second legal needle exchange

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The Harm Reduction Action Center -- whose very own Ruth Kanatser was honored recently with the inaugural Josephine Roche Award for direct service and advocacy -- could soon be Denver's second legal syringe exchange.

For decades, syringe exchange -- or swapping injection drug users' dirty needles for clean ones to stop the spread of diseases -- was illegal in Colorado. Though Denver had an underground syringe exchange, which Westword profiled in 2009, the Harm Reduction Action Center fought alongside several others to change the law. They were successful, both statewide and in Denver. But when it came time to open the first exchanges, the center was turned down because its building -- a little red house on Lipan Street -- wasn't up to code.

Yesterday, director Lisa Raville revealed that the center has found a new home: a storefront on Santa Fe Drive. (They're not announcing the exact address until they speak to the neighbors.) Finding a new home wasn't easy, Raville says. "We've dealt with a lot of stigma in trying to find a place that works for community members and clients, as well," she says. The center aims to be in its new location by January 1.

In the meantime, the city attorney's office will review the contract that allows the center to operate a syringe exchange, a process Raville says she's been told could take up to six weeks. Once it's officially approved, the center will start exchanging syringes immediately, she says. The current plan is to do the exchanges for two hours a day, six days a week. The center will ask current drug users for suggestions on which hours.

"We're really, really excited to help prevent and eliminate the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C in the Denver community," Raville says. The Colorado AIDS Project was approved as Denver's first legal syringe exchange in September.

More from our Follow That Story archives: "Medical marijuana: Senator Pat Steadman talks about pot credit unions, patient resource center."

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