"Godfather" of Needle Exchange Dies | The Fix
facebook twitter RSS
HOT TOPICS: Alcoholism  Addiction  AA  Cocaine  Heroin

"Godfather" of Needle Exchange Dies

Dave Purchase started exchanging needles on a street corner in 1989 and became a national leader of the movement.

Image: 

Dave Purchase was devoted to helping
addicts. Photo via

By Ben Feuerherd

01/28/13

| Share

Dave Purchase, the “godfather” of the American needle exchange, died on January 21. He was 73. Purchase died of complications of pneumonia in Tacoma Washington, the city where he began handing out clean syringes to combat AIDS among drug users 24 years ago. Purchase began his needle exchange operation on a street corner, on a borrowed television tray, steps away from a heroin den. “My dad was a biker, with the big beard, the black leather jacket,” Purchase’s son tells the New York Times. “Because of that look, he started assisting a friend who was a drug counselor who would send him around town when clients went missing—into bars, down an alley.”  Within five months, he had given out 13,000 clean needles (in exchange for used ones), most of which he purchased out-of-pocket. His grassroots needle exchange was one of the first in the country, and the media and public health advocates took notice. “Whether or not he was literally the first to hand out syringes to stop AIDS, he was undoubtedly the godfather of needle exchange in America,” says Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “He was a mentor and adviser to activists and public health workers around the world.”

By 1993 Purchase’s operation moved off the street corners and out of the alleys of Tacoma, gaining support from local health agencies. In cooperation with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, Purchase started the Point Defiant AIDS Project, and the the North American Syringe Exchange Network. The network, which is still in operation today, buys needles at wholesale and sells them to smaller needle exchanges throughout the US. It is now responsible for distributing 15 million syringes annually.

Rehabilitation Directories

Most Popular
The Rehab Review
Cliffside Malibu
 
 
 
 

The “beach-house-relaxed” Cliffside Malibu claims to provide an oasis for recovering addicts and alcoholics. And that’s just what you'll get—if you’ve got the cash.

Morningside Recovery
 
 
 
 

For a “rehab near the beach” experience that isn’t quite as costly as similar SoCal competitors, head to this Newport Beach treatment facility.

AToN Center
 
 
 
 

Whether you’re interested in the 12 Steps, SMART Recovery, or holistic treatments, this luxurious, appealing and commendable 4.5 star (our system doesn't yet show the 1/2 star) San Diego rehab has a program for you. 

Reflections
 
 
 
 

This exclusive Northern California rehab is all about client choice—as well as golf outings, Buddhist field trips and keeping up with the office.

Capo By The Sea
 
 
 
 

Capo By The Sea offers an executive rehab program complete with medical detox and a focus on dual-diagnosis issues, as well as an outpatient option in an environment that exudes the kind of beach house optimism one would expect from an Orange County recovery outfit.

Journey Malibu
 
 
 
 

Want many of the luxury amenities A-listers have come to expect—including an enormous backyard with a pool and patio, an herb garden, a volleyball net and a spectacular vista of the Santa Monica mountains—with a recovery program to match?

The Ultimate Guide to Rehab
 
 
 
 
 

What you need to know when choosing an addiction treatment center.

the fix tv