The Arrogance of Mandated Needle Exchange Programs

The Arrogance of Mandated Needle Exchange Programs

A used syringe sits discarded on the sidewalks of San Francisco, Calif., on Feb. 23, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

John Moorlach

John Moorlach


Updated: 12/21/2023

One of the frustrating components of the Democrat-controlled state legislature is its arrogance. Elected officials and their support staff in Sacramento broadcast that they are smarter than those in locally elected positions.
Don’t believe me?
Look at how they are forcing city councils to build exorbitantly more housing within their city borders. Ask the city of Huntington Beach how this is working for them. They have chosen to litigate (see Judge Denies Early Trial in State’s Housing Lawsuit Against Huntington Beach from July 25).
Another mandate by Sacramento is requiring a needle exchange program in the city of Santa Ana, which banned such programs back in 2020 (see Syringe Exchange Program Approved in Santa Ana Despite City Leaders’ Objections from Aug. 17). Here are selected quotes from the piece:
“The Harm Reduction Institute, which offers free opioid reversal medication and overdose training to individuals and nonprofits, received the approval from the California Department of Public Health Office of AIDS, which works with organizations throughout the state to combat HIV and AIDS.
“Now the agency—in collaboration with other nonprofits—is authorized to collect used, dirty needles and deliver clean ones to residents’ homes, RVs, or to homeless individuals that are not near playgrounds or schools, according to an announcement by the city.”
Are we to assume that if you cannot discourage individuals from dependency on opioids, then enabling them is the next best approach?
In this file image, a syringe is shown at a free clinic in California on Dec. 19, 2014. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In this file image, a syringe is shown at a free clinic in California on Dec. 19, 2014. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In March of 2019, while serving in the State Senate, I introduced Senate Bill 689 to allow local elected officials to determine if syringe and needle programs would be permitted:
“This bill would ... allow the [Department of Public Health] to authorize an entity ... only if the city, county, or city and county in which the entity will be operating has adopted an ordinance or resolution approving that authorization or reauthorization.”
We had a well-attended announcement ceremony in front of Orange City Hall. Presenters included Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, then Orange Mayor Mark Murphy, then Anaheim City Councilman Trevor O’Neil, then Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Sandra Genis, and Tamara Jimenez of the Anaheim Lighthouse Treatment Center. Orange City Councilman Chip Monaco was also present in support.
Like Huntington Beach, the only recourse to stop this unilateral activity is for a city council to sue the state, but it’s not an inexpensive proposition.
SB 689 resulted from a judge’s ruling temporarily blocking a nonprofit from operating a needle exchange in Santa Ana after Orange County officials filed suit over it. Finding needles in library books and having janitors poked also motivated my efforts.
The goal was to have a protocol for collaboration and an appropriate etiquette between Sacramento and California’s 482 cities to avoid further costly litigation. There is nothing more infuriating than watching municipalities sue each other and waste precious tax dollars.
With SB 689, we tried to give cities a choice. What a concept. District Attorney Spitzer also reminded those in attendance “that most retail chain pharmacies provide needles already.” If you need a needle, go get a free one. The effort received plenty of media attention prior to the first hearing before the nine-member Senate Health Committee.
A used syringe lays disgarded on a sidewalk outside of downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 21, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A used syringe lays disgarded on a sidewalk outside of downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 21, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Local advocates for needle distribution took their case to the public with their arguments opposing the bill in the Orange County Register, claiming there was “overwhelming evidence on the efficacy of syringe exchange programs: they decrease the spread of infectious disease; do not increase drug use or local crime; and often act as an entry point for people who use injection drugs to access healthcare, drug treatment, and resources for their recovery.”
These advocates should have taken this argument to the city of Santa Ana’s city council, as they have to explain to their constituents who use public parks why needles are being discovered by young children and toddlers. The voters will let them know if the benefits of this strategy outweigh the resulting dangerous debris. Obviously, even a liberal city like Santa Ana did not buy this argument. But a city council should at least be given the choice and be respectful to the wishes of their residents.
The Harm Reduction Institute was represented at the hearing and spoke in opposition. The cities of Anaheim, Orange and Santa Ana were in support, as was the County, the District Attorney, and the Association of Cities–Orange County, among many others.
The only two Republicans on the Senate Health Committee voted in support of the bill, Senators Grove and Stone (a pharmacist). It needed five votes to pass. Democrat Senators Durazo, Leyva, Monning, Pan, and Rubio voted in opposition, and Democrat Senators Hurtado and Mitchell abstained.
Once again, the Democrat-controlled state legislature imposed a mandate on local elected officials. The city of Santa Ana is as blue as an Orange County city can be. All its city councilmembers are registered Democrats. The Orange County Board of Supervisors now has a Democrat majority and also recently opposed the needle program (see California County Officials Oppose State’s Needle-Exchange Program from March 24).
It is ironic that the Democratic supermajority in the Capitol would not even give their brethren at the local level the ability to control a program that is now unilaterally imposed by a state bureaucracy for the perceived good of the city’s residents. It doesn’t get more arrogant and self-righteous than that.
Santa Ana Mayor Valerie Amezcua was rightfully indignant when she stated she was “greatly disappointed that the state health department would override our local government authority to protect our community.”
I feel their frustration. Look what needle programs have done to the city and county of San Francisco (see San Francisco Unsafe, Dirty, Going to Get Worse: Former Board of Supervisors President, May 10).
All I can say is, get used to it.
John Moorlach

John Moorlach


John Moorlach is the director of the California Policy Center's Center for Public Accountability. He has served as a California State Senator and Orange County Supervisor and Treasurer-Tax Collector. In 1994, he predicted the County's bankruptcy and participated in restoring and reforming the sixth most populated county in the nation.

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