Santa Ana Objects to Syringe Exchange Program Approved by California

The Harm Reduction Institute is one step closer to providing needle exchange services in Santa Ana following the approval of its application by the California Department of Public Health despite objections from city leaders.

City Manager Kristine Ridge and Police Chief David Valentin sent a letter of opposition to the state’s health department in May, pointing to concerns about public health and safety after a previous exchange program. Between 2016 and 2018, the Orange County Needle Exchange Program operated in Santa Ana before shutting down after city officials denied it a permit, saying the program had resulted in needles littering the area. The same group was barred by a judge in November 2018 from running a mobile needle exchange program in four Orange County cities, including Santa Ana, saying volunteers didn’t have adequate resources to prevent or clean up needle litter.

The city’s letter called the effects of the needle exchange program on the community “dire,” and said that despite the city’s pleas for management of the needles handed out, the program had resulted “in thousands of used hypodermic needles being discarded in or on the adjacent public buildings, libraries, streets, sidewalks, parks, and waterways both in Santa Ana and elsewhere in Orange County.”

Mayor Valerie Amezcua called the state public health department’s decision “unacceptable” and argued that Santa Ana has already shouldered too much in addressing homeless and substance abuse concerns of even surrounding cities.

“It’s about the quality of life in Santa Ana. I just I don’t accept it as a mom, as a person, as a community member, as a mayor, as a granddaughter, or as a daughter to say, ‘Well, this is just what it is. This is why we come here. You’re the county seat. You provide all the services,’” Amezcua said. “No, sorry. That’s a cop out. There are other cities that can provide services.”

The nonprofit has been authorized to provide delivery of clean syringes and pickup of used syringes at private homes, tents, RVs and other non-traditional forms of housing. It will not be allowed to deliver supplies to unhoused individuals near playgrounds or schools.

The organization does not have a launch date yet. Carol Newark, executive director of the Harm Reduction Institute, said Santa Ana has an ordinance that bans needle exchange programs so her group will have to figure out how to work within those rules.

The needle exchange would be added to the nonprofit’s current offerings of overdose prevention and harm reduction services to about 300 people via street outreach. The organization also provides case management and treatment navigation services for participants who need medical care, as well as social and mental health services.

Newark said the state is requiring the organization be able to offer needle disposal services Mondays through Fridays, as well as do daily sweeps to clean the streets and ensure that there is no needle litter. The public health department is also offering to pay for needle disposal kiosks to be placed around the city.

One limiting factor to being able to use the program is that a person must own a cellphone as a way to keep track of needles for disposal. So, if a member of the outreach team makes a delivery and the next day the person is no longer living there, they have a phone number to find out where the person is to ensure proper needle disposal, Newark said.

“We’re trying to be proactive,” Newark said. “We are concerned about improperly discarded syringes. People really tend to focus on the fact that we provide sterile syringes to people, but that’s only 50% of what we do. We provide them, but we do also dispose of them.”

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register