PUEBLO – Law enforcement in Pueblo County now have a new tool to keep opioid offenders out of an overcrowded prison.
The Pueblo City Council unanimously passed an ordinance creating the Pueblo Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which seeks to reduce criminal behavior and improve public safety.
In a partnership between with the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office, Tenth Judicial District Attorney’s Office, Crossroads Turning Points, Inc., and several other agencies, the Pueblo Police Department is trying to handle cases of opioid addiction differently.
Deputy Chief Chris Noeller used to be a narcotics detective for the Pueblo Police Department. He witnessed firsthand the rise of opioids in the city over the last decade.
“The rate of use in the city of Pueblo has skyrocketed, where our officers are contacting people almost daily that are in possession of or are high from the use of opioids,” Noeller said.
It’s a crisis, but one that’s also impacting the nation. Laura Lisonbee said it’s a product of the criminal justice system.
“You go to jail. You go to detox, but you’re still not getting any help in treatment, you’re just getting detox. So, they’re getting out and using again, but their tolerance has lowered,” Lisonbee said.
Lisonbee would know — she’s 2.5 years sober following a heroin addiction. Now, she’s working to help others facing the same problems with the Southern Colorado Harm Reduction Association.
“I just was approached by my family and told, you know, ‘You have a problem. You need to get some help,'” she said.
Lisonbee was never arrested and sought treatment on her own, but Pueblo is trying to give other opioid addicts access to that level of treatment without sending them to jail.
Instead of prison, officers would connect the offender with treatment and social services if he/she meets a set of criteria.
That criteria includes the following:
- He/she did not commit a victim-related crime when being considered for the LEAD program
- He/she was possessing two grams or less of an opioid substance.
- He/she has lived in Pueblo County for two years leading up to the LEAD referral.
- He/she is at least 18 years old.
- He/she isn’t exploiting minors.
- Police do not suspect him/her of promoting prostitution.
- He/she does not have a violent criminal history, including any of these convictions: homicide, vehicular homicide, aggravated arson, aggravated burglary, all robbery charges, all kidnapping charges, all sex offenses, and any conviction that includes firearms or “deadly weapons” over the last 10 years.
But, before any treatment can start, Crossroads is going to meet the offender where he/she is with harm reduction service.
“Someone might be homeless. They might have a medical issue. They might need food stamps or something like that. These basic needs need to be addressed before they can focus on treatment and recovery,” Lisonbee said.
In theory, by stabilizing their lives, the road to recovery becomes much more viable — keeping low-level offenders out of jail, and helping addicts begin new lives.
“We enforce the law, that’s what we do,” Noeller said. “But, in doing that, we want to help people. If there’s a way to help people, and this program I think offers some way of helping people through the opioid crisis, we should be part of that discussion.”
The program is funded by a State of Colorado Office of Behavioral Health grant worth more than $1.5 million, already given to Pueblo County on April 23. The grant’s funding is secured for three years.