Remembering Our Friend Dave Purchase

By Rob Banaszak on January 23, 2013 in Syringe Services Advocacy

Dave Purchase and syringe services advocates on the day the ban using federal funds for syringe services programs was lifted.

Dave Purchase and syringe services advocates on the day the ban using federal funds for syringe services programs was lifted.

By William McColl, Director of Political Affairs, AIDS United

Dave Purchase, the Executive Director of the North American Syringe Exchange Network passed away on Monday, January 21st. He will be remembered for inspiring, tireless advocacy on syringe. As he always said, “the point is the point!”

Dave Purchase was my friend and my mentor. I will always choose to remember him at a moment of triumph; his visit to the U.S. Capitol in May of 2010 to receive a “Champion of Public Health Awards” at the victory celebration for overturning the ban on the use of federal and local Washington DC funds for syringe exchange in 2009. In a place where Members of Congress address each other as “my friend” and “the honorable member,” Dave used his speech to directly bring in the view from the harm reduction street to Congress. He spoke simply and eloquently about the value and cost effectiveness of syringe exchange programs, but he reminded folks of the extreme cost in lives and money of the 20 years it took to change ignorant laws. I am pretty sure Dave is the only person I’ve heard use the f-word 3 times in a speech at the Capitol. I’m still smiling and I think he was pleased with that – I think he’d enjoy that I’m sharing that with you.

He was right to bring in that viewpoint and right to remind us about the costs because just two years later, the extreme conservative Congress elected in 2010 reinstated the federal ban. That they left the local Washington D.C. ban alone was a small but precious victory that we will work to maintain. Dave was always clear with me that our community will eventually end this horrible policy and we traded thoughts about how to do it relatively frequently. So Dave and I (and each of you too) have unfinished business. All of us will miss Dave’s wise counsel, his incredible wit and common sense; and our journey won’t be quite as fun without him, but it is our promise to Dave that we will eventually end the ban on the use of funds for syringe exchange.

Dave was also a dear friend and colleague of several other AIDS United staff members, who have also shared their memories below. He is irreplaceable. His contributions include saving thousands of people from HIV and in many ways creating the very concept of a harm reduction community and his legacy will live on in the courageous work of others. His loss will be felt throughout the community, as well as here at AIDS United, for many years to come. Dave, we miss you already!

Monique Tula, Director of Access
“Dave Purchase was a man of few, but mighty words. He defied conventional wisdom when he set up his card table and folding chair where he distributed-yes, damn it distributed! – clean sets to people who needed them. He did this quietly, without a lot of fanfare. He didn’t expect to be honored, or revered. He’d likely cringe at the thought being called a legend. And yet he was legendary. Many of us wouldn’t be able to do the work we do if it weren’t for Dave and the legacy he leaves in the form of Point Defiance. Rest now and let us continue what you started so many years ago. Oh, and save a dance for me.”

Shannon Wyss, Grants Manager
“When I started working with the Syringe Access Fund in 2009, I very quickly learned Dave’s name. But it wasn’t until the reception where we all celebrated the (short-lived) lifting of the federal ban that I met him in person. I remember being incredibly impressed with this super-friendly, affable individual and liking him immediately. And I was even more impressed later when such an important figure in the harm reduction community actually remembered my name and where I worked. I always looked forward to his calls, which would invariably start out with, “Shannon, this is Purchase!,” and would be characterized by a little bit of business and a whole lot of friendly back-and-forth, usually with more than a little joking thrown in. There is no one who can match his personality, friendliness, and humor.”

Vignetta Charles, Senior Vice President
“Purchase, to me, represented wisdom and joy. I turned to him for advice for new exchanges who wanted to get off the ground (or go underground, if necessary). I was inspired by how fervently he worked to lift the federal ban. I admired the strategy of the Buyers Club to ensure co-op buying power of low cost syringes. And I relied on the data from his team on the 203 programs operating exchange sites in 34 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Indian Nations.

Most importantly, Purchase was just a really good man who brought joy and light to my days. Every phone call we had involved more than a few laughs. And every time we were in the same room, he would find a way to dance with me. The field has lost a warrior, and many of us lost a friend. There is no replacement. But we will all carry on his legacy.”

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