Syringe Exchange Program in Santa Ana Pending After City Officials’ Complaints

Syringe Exchange Program in Santa Ana Pending After City Officials’ Complaints

Used syringes collected at a needle exchange run by Camden Area Health Education Center in Camden, N.J., on Feb. 24, 2022. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

9/1/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

The California Department of Public Health rescinded its authorization of a needle exchange program in Santa Ana, which was given the green light in August despite city leaders’ objections, and now the application from a nonprofit seeking its approval is pending, according to an Aug. 30 announcement from the city.
The Harm Reduction Institute, which offers free opioid reversal medication and overdose training to individuals and nonprofits, is seeking approval for the needle exchange program from the department’s Public Health Office of AIDS, which works with organizations throughout the state to combat HIV and AIDS.
Under the proposed program, the institute would be authorized to collect used needles and deliver clean ones to residents’ homes, RVs, or to homeless individuals away from playgrounds and schools, according to city officials.
In light of the program’s now pending status, some Santa Ana councilors say they are celebrating what they call a small victory in their effort to stop the program in their city.
“It is through the rigorous advocacy by our City Council, City staff, our residents, and many others that the [state’s department of public health] has rescinded their authorization of the proposed needle distribution program,” Councilman Phil Bacerra said in a social media post Aug. 30.
But the fight isn’t over yet, he said.
A homeless man sleeps in the shade of a bus stop in Santa Ana, Calif., on May 10, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A homeless man sleeps in the shade of a bus stop in Santa Ana, Calif., on May 10, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

“While this is a huge victory for Santa Ana and [Orange County], we must remain vigilant, as the application has been placed back into ‘pending’ status,” he announced on Facebook.
Mayor Valerie Amezcua also expressed opposition to the program in August.
“This needle exchange threatens the health and safety of our children, families and neighborhoods,” she said in a statement Aug. 14.
According to the city, the decision change by the public health department comes after “strenuous opposition,” from city officials, including a letter sent by City Manager Kristine Ridge and Police Chief David Valentin in May in addition to letters from city councilors and the Orange County Health Officer.
Of concern were health and safety issues for residents, with needles able to be delivered almost anywhere in the city, they said.
In the letter from the city manager and police chief, of further concern was one previous needle exchange provider was unable to account for 250,000 syringes distributed, and lacked staff to clean up used needles, which resulted in a court ruling to shut the program down after two years in 2018, according to media reports.

Other Local Leaders Opposing Similar Programs

Additionally, leaders in San Diego County, including San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond and five city leaders also sent a letter Aug. 30 to the state’s public health department as well as Gov. Gavin Newsom opposing similar existing and proposed needle exchange and drug paraphernalia distribution programs in North San Diego County.
Mr. Desmond, who represents District 5, signed the letter alongside Mayors Rebecca Jones of San Marcos, Keith Blackburn of Carlsbad, Dane White of Escondido, John Franklin of Vista, and Oceanside Deputy Mayor Ryan Keim.
In that letter, leaders said the county government “has recently made it clear that it intends to distribute thousands of needles using state funds under the guise of a ‘harm reduction’ program. The only thing these programs do is further harm our communities stricken with substance abuse disorders,” they wrote.
They further stated one of the proposed needle exchange programs in North County has made it clear not all needles distributed would be collected, with needles already being found in parks, canyons and waterways as well as on beaches and sidewalks.
“Within one year, as many as 500,000 needles could be distributed in our region, without any mechanism in place to compel users into treatment,” the letter stated. “By giving out needles and drug paraphernalia, we are enabling and implicitly condoning illegal drug use without accountability or requirement for treatment.”
In Los Angeles County, a needle exchange program in Santa Monica has also found disfavor among residents, with a group of retail and commercial tenants, residents, and property owners looking to put an end to a similar program there.
The group, known as the Santa Monica Coalition, has gathered over 14,000 signatures since March in a petition to stop the county-funded needle distribution in the city’s parks.
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Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

Author

Rudy Blalock is a Southern California-based daily news reporter for The Epoch Times. Originally from Michigan, he moved to California in 2017, and the sunshine and ocean have kept him here since. In his free time, he may be found underwater scuba diving, on top of a mountain hiking or snowboarding—or at home meditating, which helps fuel his active lifestyle.

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