PUEBLO — As states and local communities throughout the country work through the pandemic, there's another crisis many are trying to tackle- opioid addiction.
In Pueblo's Bessemer neighborhood, the SoCo Harm Reduction Association opens its doors every Saturday to people needing help through a needle exchange program.
The organization says by offering a place to exchange dirty needles for clean ones, it lowers the chance of infectious diseases and can lead people to seek out treatment options.
"I get a lot of people that are like "oh you're just enabling people," KJ Bergfalk, lead peer support specialist said, "our only goal is to reduce harm to the community and to people."
Bergfalk spends about every other weekend helping check-in people who are looking to exchange syringes, get free Narcan, or even test for fentanyl. As someone who overcame an alcohol addiction, she says offering empathy is a key part of getting help to those who need it.
"We provide that level of comfort of "oh you've been where I've been," Bergfalk said.
Soco Harm Reduction Association started in 2017 with Judy Solano and retired emergency room physician, Dr. Mike Nerenberg, co-founding the organization.
"People think of treatment as an event," Nerenberg said.
The goal for the organization is to help people safely, Nerenberg says he's seen people come week after week and then eventually ask about treatment options. In some cases, people credit the organization with saving their life.
Nerenberg acknowledges it's a long process and offering needle exchanges isn't the total solution "it's not the end, it's the beginning, it's the first step."
The pandemic has amplified challenges within outreach to get to those who need help. During the pandemic, Soco Harm Reduction Association reduced hours and closed during the week.
"The inability to [have] face-time with people was a distinct limitation," Nerenberg said. Overdoses have increased in the last year. Nerenberg
Colorado is set to receive millions of dollars to allocate to communities across the state as a settlement from pharmaceutical companies. Nerenberg hopes to see money go towards groups that are reaching out to communities hit hard by the opioid epidemic.