Judge halts ban on injection programs in El Dorado County

El Dorado County cannot enforce a ban on programs that distribute clean syringes because a legal battle continues between the county and the California Department of Public Health, a state Supreme Court judge has ruled.

Judge Gary S. Slossberg issued a preliminary injunction to prevent El Dorado County from implementing an ordinance that makes it illegal to conduct spraying programs in the unincorporated areas.

The judge said he was not addressing the heated arguments for or against syringe programs, which provide sterile needles to people who use drugs, but whether the Department of Health had a “reasonable likelihood” of prevailing in its argument that the provincial regulation conflicts with constitutional law.

Friday's decision does not end the courtroom dispute over whether the ban passed by the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors was undermined by state law, as public health officials have argued, or over whether county officials' ban that the spraying program was wrongly approved by the state. Slossberg said Friday that the intention is for the preliminary injunction to remain in effect pending a later trial.

The Department of Health filed suit this year against El Dorado County and the county seat of Placerville, arguing that their ban on syringe programs violated the state's health and safety code.

The state health department first authorized the nonprofit Sierra Harm Reduction Coalition four years ago to conduct a syringe program in the county. State officials have long endorsed such programs as a proven way to prevent HIV and hepatitis C from running rampant when people share contaminated syringes.

California law gives the public health agency the authority to authorize syringe programs anywhere fatal or disabling infections could spread through used needles, “notwithstanding any other law.”

Nevertheless, local bans on syringe programs have emerged across California as city and county officials argue that handing out free syringes does more harm than good. El Dorado County leaders passed their rule in December, which was followed by a similar ordinance in Placerville in February.

The lawsuit filed by the California Department of Public Health drew objections from El Dorado County leaders: Earlier this year, Dist. Atty. Vern Pierson called it “madness” and argued that California officials were “trying to impose the normalization of hardcore drug use.”

In a cross-complaint filed against the Department of Health, the county said the state-approved syringe program had caused “profound nuisance and public safety impacts,” including a “drastic increase in the number of discarded needles,” and that overdoses had risen. since it started.

The province said in a legal filing that since the ban came into effect, “there has been a reduction in spraying waste, fewer incidents of public nuisance and a resulting reduction in burden on law enforcement.”

It also accused the public health department of not following state requirements when it approved the shot program.

The judge did not address the cross-complaint filed by El Dorado County during Friday's hearing. In a lawsuit, California officials said studies show that syringe programs provide important resources for needle disposal and play a critical role in preventing overdoses. They credited the Sierra Harm Reduction Coalition with distributing thousands of boxes of Narcan, a brand of naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

The Health Ministry argued in a legal filing that ending the syringe program would likely increase HIV and hepatitis C infections among people who use drugs, raising state costs for their care; lead to more deaths from overdoses; and limiting access to syringe disposal options, among other harmful effects.

Because of the ban, “our most vulnerable, stigmatized and marginalized community members are being actively denied life-saving interventions,” Shilo Jama, interim director of the Sierra Harm Reduction Coalition, said in a court filing.

Slossberg said that while he prevented El Dorado County's ordinance from being enforced, the county may have had other mechanisms to address nuisance issues that were not addressed in the ordinance.

In a statement issued in response to the judge's comments, Pierson, the prosecutor, said that “we will propose to limit the ordinance.”

Friday's ruling applies only to the ordinance passed by El Dorado County. Attorney Mona Ebrahimi, who represents the city of Placerville, said a hearing involving the city had been postponed.

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