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Syringe services and more, sans judgment

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Maggie Seldeen started High Rockies Harm Reduction (HRHR), not on a whim, not because she thought it would be edgy, but because there was a need. A need she’s observed, and felt the impact of, within our community. 

Overcoming addiction is a convoluted path, with lots of twists and turns and ups and downs. HRHR meets people in their addiction where they are, without setting an expectation right out of the gate. To Seldeen, if someone is using but using as safely as they can, that is a win. 

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Syringe services

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HRHR provides sterile syringes of all gauge sizes. Seldeen says the service has been utilized by a variety of folks including some who are doing their own hormone treatment. “Of course, people also inject drugs; people inject meth, heroin … people just get addicted to injecting itself,” she stated. 

The organization provides sterilized equipment used for intravenous drug users, including: “cookers,” water, bandaids, tourniquets, alcohol pads and antibiotic ointments. According to Seldeen, this is the first year that federal money can be used to purchase syringes for harm reduction services.

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HRHR issues registration cards for its syringe service program which can protect individuals from being charged for paraphernalia. However, Seldeen pointed out that the card does not prevent people from being charged with possession if they have an illegal substance on them. 

When it comes to disposing of used needles, the organization has biohazard receptacles to do so. Again, not only do people who use needles for illegal injections benefit from the disposal service, but diabetics have also been known to utilize it. 

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“Ideally, to dispose of a needle properly, you bend the needle tip or cap it after one use then dispose of it in a marked biohazard container,” explained Seldeen. “We provide containers of all sizes, including small ‘pocket’ containers and mailback containers with postage paid.” 

Seldeen informed The Sopris Sun that the only other needle drop-off site locally is Grand River Health in Rifle, where the needles must already be in a proper disposal container when brought in. She added that biohazard containers for loose single needles can also be found in some public restrooms in the Valley. 

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Other services

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“I want to emphasize that Narcan and fentanyl test strips, as well as education and overdose prevention, are the biggest asks we have from people,” stated Seldeen. 

Narcan is an opioid overdose reversal which goes hand-in-hand with the fentanyl test strips, as many drugs are increasingly tainted with fentanyl. In fact, according to a recent study conducted by the nonprofit Families Against Fentanyl, 709 people died in Colorado in 2021 from the drug. In comparison, according to Seldeen, in 2020, there were 544 overdose deaths from fentanyl in Colorado. 

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Narcan is used for opioid overdoses but, “with fentanyl right now, it makes it so much more relevant, especially to our adolescent and young adult communities, because cocaine, pills, MDMA; all of these drugs we should basically assume have fentanyl,” expressed Seldeen.

She brought up the five people who passed away from fentanyl laced cocaine in Commerce City in February as well as the three Durango High School students, one who tragically died, while the other two were hospitalized, from an accidental fentanyl overdose in December 2021. 

Due to the potential of spreading diseases through sores in one’s mouth or nose, HRHR also provides safe smoking and snorting equipment. 

“For me it’s all about building a trusting relationship and showing compassion to people,” said Seldeen. “This is how we help people; by providing them with what they need and what they want with no questions asked — no judgment. We’re always going to be here to give you a safe space to get warm for a few minutes, get what you need and keep you as healthy and safe as possible.” 

“I will tell you from personal experience,” she continued, “that kind of attitude is received much better than the practitioner who tells you, ‘you have to quit doing this right now or I’m not going to help you.’” 

“The syringes themselves, and even the safe smoking and snorting equipment that we provide are always going to be a smaller part of what we do…but the bottom line is, no one is doing it and we want to fill that gap.” 

When it comes to measuring success in this line of work, it’s just as convoluted as addiction itself. Whether it’s a parent who uses Narcan to save their child from overdosing, or a client getting another chance at life, Seldeen is striving to keep people alive. “To me, doing good is calling me regularly,” she stated. 

“A lot of people might argue that harm reduction might not work for everybody,” she led. “I argue that AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] doesn’t work for everybody and in-patient rehab doesn’t work for everybody — statistically they don’t work for very many people — so we’ve got to at least try something else.”

For more information about HRHR’s services, including hours and locations, or to make a donation to the nonprofit, visit www.highrockiesharmreduction.com

Biohazard containers and new syringes are but a few items HRHR provides to keep people using safe. Photo by Will Sardinsky

Tags: #addiction #High Rockies Harm Reduction #Maggie Seldeen #Will Sardinsky
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