Orange County Leaders Vow to Fight New Needle Exchange Program
City and county officials are vowing to fight a new needle exchange program slated for parts of Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Orange, and Santa Ana. The program was announced last week by the state Department of Public Health. It will be administered by nonprofit agency Office of AIDS which will work directly with the Orange County Health Care Agency.
Syringe exchange programs (SEPs) enjoy widespread support within the medical and scientific communities as a way to prevent the spread of AIDS and other diseases. But critics have long argued that they require strict accountability and exchange protocols to prevent the proliferation of syringes on public streets. In cities like San Francisco, where such protocol is lacking, over 150,000 syringes are discarded on public streets every month.
Orange County’s leaders worry their communities will soon meet a similar fate. Supervisors have already voted to initiate legal action against the program. The Costa Mesa City Council also voted to bring legal action last week.
"California public health officials disregarded overwhelming evidence that the group proposing to operate the needle exchange program in our city has been negligent in the past,” the city said in a statement.
But in a letter to the county, state health officials argued that the program was necessary to prevent the spread of hepatitis C and other infections. Orange County is already "among the California counties most vulnerable to rapid spread of injection drug use-related HIV and HCV infections,'' the letter said. "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.”