Judge Halts County’s Ban on Needle Exchange

The California Department of Public Health has scored an early victory in its battle to keep needle exchange programs operating in El Dorado County.

On Friday, a Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction to stop the county from enforcing a ban on syringe programs in unincorporated areas. The court’s decision was based on the state’s “reasonable probability” of succeeding in its lawsuit against the county.

El Dorado's Board of Supervisors passed the ban in December. The City of Placerville followed. The state sued both the county and city, arguing that the ordinances are preempted by state law. 

El Dorado is among a growing number of jurisdictions trying to stamp out harm reduction programs like needle exchange. Critics believe it normalizes and enables drug addiction, contributing to open air drug use, crime, and environmental contamination. State public health experts disagree. They point to data showing that harm reduction programs reduce the spread of disease and ultimately save lives.

El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson said the county will propose narrowing the ordinance to increase its chance of succeeding in the courts. 

Friday’s preliminary injunction only affects El Dorado County. A hearing on Placerville’s ordinance was recently postponed.