PUEBLO, Colo. — The ACLU of Colorado filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Colorado Health Network and the Southern Colorado Harm Reduction Association (SCHRA), two nonprofit organizations operating syringe exchange programs (SEPs) in Pueblo. The complaint asserts that a new Pueblo law prohibiting SEPs is preempted by Colorado state law. The ACLU of Colorado is seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to immediately halt enforcement of the law. 

On April 22, 2024, Pueblo City Council first proposed an ordinance prohibiting the establishment, operation, use, and participation of SEPs within city limits. It also classifies SEPs as a “specific nuisance” and seeks to impose criminal penalties on service providers. Despite strong opposition from community members and public health experts, Pueblo City Council passed the ordinance on May 13, 2024. Since then, Colorado Health Network and SCHRA have ceased all SEP services in fear of suffering criminal charges.  

“Pueblo’s decision ignores basic public health policy and the evidence-based programs that seek to ensure all Coloradans have access to essential healthcare, education, and harm-prevention,” said Tim Macdonald, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director. “Pueblo also violates state law in seeking to criminalize these public health programs.  The state of Colorado understood that these programs help prevent the transmission of infectious disease, do not increase illegal substance use or crime, and dramatically increase the likelihood of people entering drug treatment and stopping the use of drugs.”   

SEPs such as those operated by Colorado Health Network and SCHRA are a powerful tool in preventing the spread of infectious diseases, including HIV and Hepatitis C. Additionally, SEPs cultivate a relationship with people who inject substances and can connect them to resources such as overdose prevention education, substance use disorder treatment providers, STI testing, and more. Colorado first authorized the operation of SEPs in 2010; beginning in 2020, SEPs can operate without prior approval from a county board of health or district board of health. 

 “Our program was supported by the Pueblo County Board of Health and remains publicly supported by medical professionals and addiction specialists in Pueblo,” said Darrell Vigil, Chief Executive Officer of Colorado Health. “We recognize concerns raised by some members of Pueblo City Council and asked the city to collaborate in good faith with us. Our only goal is to be a good community partner focused on improving public health. Sadly, data presented by CHN to the city council and our request to work collaboratively fell on deaf ears.” 

“Syringe Exchange Programs like ours get people through the door. There, we can cultivate relationships so that they feel safe and comfortable exploring other resources,” said Jude Solano, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of the Southern Colorado Harm Reduction Association. “I hope that Pueblo can see we’re meeting the demands of the community and providing a space for people to get better.”  

In addition to Macdonald, the legal team includes ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorneys Lindsey Floyd, Annie Kurtz, Sara Neel, and ACLU Cooperating Attorneys Christine Ranney, Al Kelly, and John Harrison with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.