Colo. officials: Dentist reused syringes, needles

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DENVER (AP) — State health officials accused a Colorado dentist Thursday of reusing syringes and needles to administer drugs to some of his 8,000 patients over more than a decade, possibly exposing them to the virus that causes AIDS or to hepatitis.

No specific infections have been linked to the offices of the dentist, identified as Stephen Stein, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said.

Stein's attorney, Victoria Lovato, said the dentist is cooperating with state officials. She declined to comment further.

Stein had at least 8,000 patients from September 1999 until June 2011, but it wasn't clear how many received intravenous drugs, said Dr. Chris Urbina, executive director of the state health department.

Urbina said letters were mailed to those 8,000 patients informing them of the allegation and advising them to be tested for human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, as well as hepatitis B and hepatitis C if they received intravenous drugs under Stein's care.

Officials said Stein's patient records might be incomplete, and they urged anyone who received intravenous drugs under Stein's care to be tested.

Stein is not currently practicing and entered an interim cessation of practice agreement with the state Board of Dental Examiners, the health department said.

Stein operated Stein Oral and Facial Surgery from September 1999 until June 2011, first in Highlands Ranch, a subdivision south of Denver, then in Denver. The alleged reuse of syringes and needles is believed to have started by September 1999, said Dr. Wendy Bamberg, physician-epidemiologist for the health department.

The alleged practice ended by June 2011, officials said.

Urbina said he did not know what sterilization steps, if any, the syringes and needles went through. But he said any reuse is prohibited by regulation.

The chances of an infection being transmitted by used syringes and needles depends on several variables, including how thoroughly the instrument was cleaned, said Dr. Michelle Barron, medical director for infection prevention and control at the University of Colorado Hospital.

"It has to be a pretty high level of sterilization and disinfection for this to work," she said, and it's typically not attempted on small instruments such as needles because of the difficulty in making sure small openings and angled surfaces are cleaned.

Another factor is whether the instrument was used on someone with an active infection or one that was being controlled by medication, she said.

Urbina said he couldn't comment on whether a criminal investigation was under way. Spokeswomen for the Colorado attorney general and the Denver district attorney said they were unaware of any investigation by their offices.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney responsible for Highlands Ranch didn't immediately return a call.

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