OC Supervisors OK Lawsuit to Stop Needle Exchange Program

posted by City News Service - 

SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County supervisors today voted to seek a temporary restraining order to block a needle exchange program scheduled to begin again on Monday. 

The needles would be offered in areas of Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Orange and Santa Ana. Orange County Board Chairman Andrew Do said he believes officials in those cities will join the county's litigation.

"They have already expressed a desire to do so,” Do said.

"The program seeks to try to address a public health issue, but in addition to handing out free needles they should also have a way to dispose of used needles in a safe manner,” Do said. ``Their program is completely silent on that side of the coin. They give out the needles, but they don't care how they're disposed of and to me that is irresponsible.”

The California Department of Public Health, Office of AIDS authorized the program in a recent letter, saying there is a need to address the spread of diseases. State officials, however, advised the nonprofit organization running the program to work with the Orange County Health Care Agency to reduce the level of discarded needles.

And the state pledged to keep working with local leaders on the used- needle litter issue.

Do recalled a few months ago walking around the block of the federal courthouse in Santa Ana with U.S. District Judge David O. Carter when they found three discarded syringes.

"The challenge we faced is we didn't want to handle it ourselves, but we couldn't just call the regular maintenance crew because they're not trained to dispose of hazardous materials, and once we picked it up where would we dispose of it?” Do said.

Do said he appreciates that the advocates of the program want to address the issue of communicable diseases being spread among intravenous drug users.

"I'm not saying don't help the drug users,” Do said. ``What I'm saying is we can't compromise the health of the public at large for the potential benefit of a few.”

Supervisor Todd Spitzer said the program ``is another aspect of crime out of control in Orange County. ... This is tolerance for lawlessness, which is becoming the norm not the exception and we're just getting inundated with these soft-on-crime measures ... We've got to take back our streets.”

Spitzer said he supports a lawsuit to stop the program.

"I think we're going to have to look at all of our legal remedies,” Spitzer said.

Spitzer argued that Orange County has seen a spike in theft and auto theft cases over the past four years that outstrips the state and Los Angeles County averages.

"And there's a direct correlation between people using drugs and stealing in order to feed their habit,” Spitzer said.

Spitzer acknowledged that the spread of communicable diseases is a ``public health issue that has to be addressed,” but said a needle exchange program is the wrong way to address it.

The locations for the exchange program are planned for areas bounded by:

-- Riverside (91) Freeway, north Anaheim Boulevard, East La Palma Avenue, and North Olive Street in Anaheim;

-- 17th Street from the outer border of the Armstrong Petroleum Plan to Whittier Avenue in Costa Mesa;

-- West Katella Avenue and West Struck Avenue, the Santa Ana River, West Orangewood Avenue and Main Street in Orange;

-- East Fourth Street, North Standard Avenue, Walnut Street and North Grand Avenue in Santa Ana.

The program will be offered in Anaheim on Mondays and Thursdays from 2 to 5 p.m.; Wednesdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Costa Mesa; Tuesdays and Fridays from 2 to 5 p.m. in Orange; and Wednesdays from 2 to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Santa Ana.

Do said the Anaheim location has eight schools nearby.

State officials said in the letter authorizing the program that there ``is a public health need for these services due to the significant risk for transmission of HIV and hepatitis C among people who inject drugs in Orange County.”

Orange County has been deemed ``among the California counties most vulnerable to rapid spread of injection drug use-related HIV and HCV infections,” state officials say.

"Newly reported cases of chronic hepatitis C increased by 201 percent between 2011-15 in Orange County, and the rate of newly diagnosed HIV cases per 100,000 population increased by 24 percent between 2012 and 2016,” the state said in the letter.

Also, ``very few” pharmacies in the county provide non-prescription syringe sales, according to the state.

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