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Founder Of University District Needle Exchange Dead

Shilo Murphy/People's Harm Reduction Alliance

Bob Quinn, one of the founders of Seattle's needle exchange, died over the weekend. The King County Medical examiner says it was suicide.

Public health officials credit needle exchange programs with helping to control the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C. Exchanges also provide support services and drug treatment information.

Quinn came to Seattle from Saskatchewan, Canada, in the late '80s. It was the height of the AIDS epidemic. Heroin use was on the rise as well. Quinn started handing out clean needles from his backpack on University Way in the University District. Eventually he set up a table in front of the old Tower Records.

In an interview in 2010, Quinn said he never considered the legality of what he was doing.

“The exchange in many ways was just a gut reaction. It was an emergency, something had to be done and so I did it," he said. "I didn’t think of the consequences or whether it was right or wrong. It needed to be done and I did what I had to do.”

By 1989 the King County Department of Public Health issued permits to allow the exchange to operate. The University District’s needle exchange has since moved but is still in operation.

Washington state now has 20 established needle exchange programs. Five are in King County.

The HIV/AIDS  prevention manager for Public Health Seattle and King County says Quinn will be remembered for his dedication, perseverance and his advocacy.

Bob Quinn was 54 years old.

If you or someone you know are suicidal, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 800.273.TALK (8255).