Founder of Tacoma needle exchange dead at 73

TACOMA — The Tacoma man who started one of the nation’s first needle exchanges to prevent HIV-AIDS among drug users has died at age 73.

The needle exchange David Purchase started in 1988 in downtown Tacoma was quickly copied across the nation, leading his friends and associates to call him a public health hero.

All he wanted to do was prevent the spread of HIV-AIDS among drug users.

“When he began talking about the needle exchange, his sense of social justice, Dave didn’t have a neutral gear or a reverse gear,” said Lyle Quasim, a friend since 1970. “Dave only had forward gears.”

His daughter, Becky Purchase Ford, told The News Tribune that he died Monday.

The Tacoma program, which was controversial at first, is now run by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department.

Purchase went on to found the North American Syringe Exchange and the Point Defiance AIDS Project and was instrumental in programs that began as far away as Australia and Italy.

“He was the instigator, and everyone else was a supporting actor,” said Terry Reid, who worked with Purchase at substance-abuse programs.

Dennis Flannigan, a friend since high school and a former state lawmaker and Pierce County councilman, remembers Purchase being asked to testify before Congress on needle-exchange programs.

“He was a lovable, determined man, but he told them, `You’re letting people die’ by not supporting the effort,” Flannigan said. “He challenged authority in such an articulate, measured way, you could not defeat his logic.”

Purchase also was a photographer for Boeing and shot test flights.

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