Orange County supervisors Tuesday approved a resolution objecting to a local organization’s efforts to get a state permit to continue a needle exchange program in the county.
“It is a failed experiment,” Orange County Board Chairman Andrew Do said of the Orange County Needle Exchange Program, which was passing out syringes to drug addicts in Santa Ana’s Civic Center area from 2016 through January 2018, when the city decided to halt it. The area near the Central Justice Center courthouse was, until recently, the site of a homeless encampment.
“It failed because it subjected the community to a public health risk,” Do said. “This group is now trying to exploit a loophole by applying to the state.”
A message left with the organization was not immediately returned.
“It is not a needle exchange — it’s a needle giveaway program,” Do said, adding instead of a one-for-one exchange, “it is a one-for-20 giveaway.”
Do accused the needle-exchange organization of “trying to cram down Orange County’s throat something no cities have so far approved.”
Do said he intended to pursue a lawsuit if the state ignores the county’s resolution.
“I want the public to know that if the state circumvents the county and ignores our concerns and approves this application that I intend to move this board to file a lawsuit to fight such an action,” Do said.
Do noted that the county picked up 14,000 needles from the Santa Ana riverbed when a homeless encampment there was cleared out.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he would like county officials to consider whatever “administrative” actions the county can take before litigating the issue if the state approves the application. Spitzer said he would also like to see what the county is doing to address issues related to communicable diseases since needle exchange programs usually aim to reduce the risk of spreading diseases among drug addicts.
“I’m not an expert, but I have a feeling it has something to do with it and it is why people support needle exchanges,” Spitzer said.
Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said “it is about local control. We don’t want Sacramento telling us what to do and what not to do.” Bartlett suggested the county detail what it is doing to address drug addiction when sending its resolution to the state.
Supervisor Michelle Steel said the needle exchange program led to the proliferation of syringes throughout the city, claiming librarians were finding discarded ones in the bookshelves of the local libraries.
“We have to protect our children from these needles,” Bartlett said.
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