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Public hearing to be held on proposed needle exchange program in Pueblo County

Public hearing to be held on needle exchange program

PUEBLO COUNTY, Colo. - A public hearing will be held next month to discuss bringing a needle exchange program to Pueblo County. The program would let drug users exchange their dirty needles for clean ones.

The Pueblo County Board of Health will vote on the program. Dr. Michael Nerenberrg is one of five people on the board. He spent 24 years as an emergency room doctor at Parkview Medical Center. But Nerenberg said treating patients who overdosed on heroin wasn't something he saw throughout most of his career.

"And then in the last few years, it started to become a regular occurrence," he said.

Nerenberg said a nationwide crackdown on prescription drug use has contributed to the increase in heroin use.

"One of the big problems in the ER with long-term users is sometimes we need vein access and they've used them all up and clean needles used over time is better for your vein than dirty needles and used needles," he said.

Opponents argue the program promotes drug use. Nerenberg said that's not true, adding that counties that have the program have reduced the rate of infectious diseases.

Nerenberg said, "Lifetime treatment of HIV runs about $350,000. Lifetime treatment of hepatitis C runs about $125,000-$150,000. Needles cost about 10 cents apiece."

The public hearing will be held on May 28 at noon at the Pueblo City-County Health Department. If board members don't receive strong opposition, they're likely to vote on the program that same day. 

Last year, the El Paso County Board of Health rejected the needle exchange program.

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