PUEBLO, Colo. - Drug users may soon be able to trade their dirty needles for clean ones.
The Pueblo City-County Health Department wants to bring a needle exchange program to Pueblo.
"Seven federal studies show that utilizing a harm-reduction program does significantly reduce the occurrence of HIV and Hepatitis diseases," said Jo Miller, associate director of community health services.
For six years, Erik Rutherford shot up heroin just about anywhere he could. He said the exchange program may have led him to quit earlier. "Disease wise I did escape but not that many people do," he said.
Rutherford shared needles. He reused them. He said it's a miracle he's alive and doesn't have any diseases.
"Nothing could stop me. Prison. Jail. Life threats. I've had a gun to my face," he said.
Rutherford recalled using the same dull, bent needle three to four times a day. He remembers times the needle even broke as he was injecting himself.
"It's basically like shooting up with a fish hook," Rutherford said. "It goes in and then it pulls your skin and creates a larger area to get infected."
The Pueblo City-County Health Department's Board of Health will decide this summer whether to bring a needle-exchange program to Pueblo. Supporters believe the program does not condone illegal drug use.
"We can't stop it, but we can sure make things better for everybody," Miller said.
Miller said the program will include an educational component by helping users get into treatment programs if they're ready. "That's a plus and that's helping our community."
Rutherford said, "If the parent that says that this is just condoning drug use watches their son die of AIDS because they couldn't get a clean needle and he wasn't going to stop using drugs regardless of what anybody said, they'd have a different opinion."
Miller said the health department doesn't know where the exchange sites would be located, but said they won't be at the health department. Miller wants to have a mobile site so they can drive to areas where drug use is prevalent.