Pueblo Judge Blocks Syringe Program Ban, and Services Resume for Now

June 11, 2024

The City of Pueblo, Colorado, has been forced to suspend an ordinance criminalizing syringe service programs (SSP), allowing two SSP to resume normal operations. On June 6, two days after an ACLU of Colorado lawsuit alleged that the ordinance violated state law, a Pueblo district court judge blocked the city from enforcing it. The judge’s temporary restraining order will remain in effect until July 10, when a preliminary injunction hearing will decide what comes next.

The ACLU of Colorado sued the City of Pueblo on behalf of Southern Colorado Harm Reduction Association (SCHRA) and Colorado Health Network, which operates Access Point Pueblo. SCHRA and Access Point are currently the only two authorized SSP in Pueblo.

Both SSP told Filter that under the new ordinance, it’s been unclear whether all SSP operations were criminalized, or just syringe distribution specifically while other services like HIV and hepatitis C testing remained lawful. Neither program has heard from city officials since the ban took effect May 16. The office of Pueblo Mayor Heather Graham (R) office did not respond to Filter‘s request for comment.

“We had some people self-report they were already sharing and reusing needles.”

“I think the judge did see there is harm being caused through the ban immediately,” Christine Charron, prevention services manager at Access Point, told Filter. “We have had over a 40-percent decrease in the amount of people coming to our services. That means so many less people getting STI testing, counseling and direct medical care.”

Colorado has authorized SSP since 2010. In 2020 the state has authorized experienced providers, which would include both Access Point and SCHRA, to legally operate even without approval from local public health officials. Between the two programs, participants and staff have reversed nearly 2,000 overdoses in the past three years alone. Since Access Point opened in 2014, HIV transmission among people who inject drugs in Pueblo County has dropped 8 percent.

Then, on May 14, the City Council approved Ordinance 10698. It declared SSP a “nuisance,” and made participation punishable by up to a year in jail.

“It made a huge difference,” SCHRA cofounder and CEO Jude Solano told Filter. “We had some people self-report they were already sharing and reusing needles.”

Many SSP participants visit daily, and programs like SCHRA and Access Point provide basic needs beyond just syringes. Once the Pueblo County District Court judge suspended the ban on June 6, both programs resumed syringe services later that same day.

“We told a few of our regular participants who are connected in the community, and they went out and shared with others,” Solano said. “That afternoon we got half of our population back.”

“State law preempts the Pueblo municipal ordinance.”

During the weeks of confusion over what if any services remained accessible, had Charron said that Access Point staff and participants had been keeping folks updated through various means like social media, but mainly connections in the community.

“It’s an ongoing communication challenge we always have getting info out to folks,” Charron said. “We rely heavily on word of mouth, especially among our unhoused clients.”

The July 10 hearing will center on whether the now-suspended ordinance did in fact violate state-level syringe access law, as ACLU Colorado has alleged.

“State law preempts the Pueblo municipal ordinance,” Tim Macdonald, legal director of ACLU Colorado, told Filter. “State law authorizes these syringe exchange programs. They were approved pursuant to that state law, one of them for more than a decade, and state law … helps fund these programs, because [lawmakers] recognize the benefits they provide.”


Photograph (cropped) via Boulder County, Colorado

Alexander Lekhtman

Alexander is Filter's staff writer. He writes about the movement to end the War on Drugs. He grew up in New Jersey and swears it's actually alright. He's also a musician hoping to change the world through the power of ledger lines and legislation. Alexander was previously Filter's editorial fellow.

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