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A push to overturn a city council ordinance banning needle exchange programs in Pueblo

Access Point Needles
Access Point Needles
Posted at 5:12 PM, May 24, 2024

PUEBLO, Colo. — Earlier this month, Pueblo City Council passed an ordinance to ban needle exchange programs in Pueblo.

WATCH: Pueblo officials pass an ordinance to ban needle exchange programs in Pueblo

According to the city, voters have filed a referendum and petition to reverse this decision.

WATCH: What's next in Pueblo after removing needle exchange

Access Point in Pueblo has provided a needle exchange program for years, but with this new ordinance, they have stopped. Sarah Money is the Health Program Manager for Access Point. She said they would like to see this ordinance overturned.

“As of now, with the recent ordinance, we are no longer distributing syringes, but still committed to our community and helping people,” Money said.

The mission at Access Point is to decrease the spread of infectious disease.

“So we opened in 2014, providing syringes, and all sorts of other risk reduction supplies, as well as HIV and hepatitis C testing. Since then we have expanded pretty greatly and now have integrated care here at Access Point Pueblo, which means on site behavioral health, very low barriers and a lot of linkage to care support, including with some medical residents here once a week,” Money said.

She said needle exchanges are a valuable part of harm reduction.

“Since the opening of our program HIV rates among people who inject drugs have declined. We have evidence from before we opened until now, and you know, HIV cases while they are still going up in Pueblo, they are decreasing among people who use drugs,” Money said.

She anticipates not having a needle exchange program will cause more harm to the community.

“Looking at the evidence of what's happened in other communities, we can anticipate more infectious disease transmission and higher overdose rates,” Money said.

In a press conference on Thursday, Mayor Heather Graham said the needle exchange ban is on hold for 30 days.

“I believe I'm not 100% sure on this, but I think it's on hold for 30 days until they know if they have the amount of signatures that they need to have,” Graham said.

WATCH: A look into the progress Mayor Graham has made in her first 100 days

On Friday, News5 clarified with the city that the needle ordinance is actually still in effect. The city says the ordinance became effective when the mayor signed it on May 16.

Voters have filed a referendum with the city. Now, they are collecting signatures for a petition.

If they collect 1,403 signatures from registered Pueblo voters and present it to the city council by June 12, the ordinance will be suspended. Pueblo City Council will then reconsider the ordinance, which could push it to a public vote on the ballot in November.

“These needles are being used as a tool for people who are addicted to drugs. And I think... that's what the council was trying to do was to limit some of that availability and how people are injecting themselves with fentanyl and meth,” Graham said.

There is controversy over whether or not banning needle exchange programs will impact drug use in Pueblo.

“Fentanyl is a nationwide problem and there are a lot of communities that don't have syringe access programs; they still see fentanyl use,” Money said.

The mayor said this is a good option to try moving forward.

“So I'll be curious to see if this needle exchange band stays in place if we see less needles on the street if we see less overdoses. If not, we're going to have to look at a different way of doing things. But I don't think that it hurts to try a different way because what we've been doing this far, is not necessarily working there,” Graham said.

But, Access Point thinks differently.

“There's a lot of people that need help and this ordinance will limit how much we are able to help people,” Money said.

She said ordinance or not, Access Point will still provide behavioral health services and continue to provide other supplies such as Narcan and fentanyl test strips.

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