Balancing Community Concerns: Orange County Urges Reevaluation of Santa Ana Needle Exchange

Orange County supervisors raise issues of littering and accountability, prompting a reconsideration of the Santa Ana needle-exchange program.

In a display of their commitment to community well-being, Orange County supervisors have come together to voice their concerns and call for a thorough reassessment of the proposed needle-exchange program in Santa Ana. This appeal follows their past legal victory, where they successfully halted a similar initiative due to the increase in littering across the city. Now, they are determined to ensure accountability and address the challenges that plagued the previous program.

During a recent meeting, Orange County Supervisor Vince Sarmiento, who has firsthand experience as a former mayor of Santa Ana, expressed reservations about the proposed program’s impact. While acknowledging the noble goal of reducing the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C, Sarmiento stressed the need for improved practices to mitigate the direct and ancillary consequences that could arise. Reflecting on the past needle-exchange program, he vividly recalled the distressing sight of thousands of discarded needles in parks, schools, and neighborhoods.

Joining the discussion, Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley shared her insights from her time as the mayor of Costa Mesa. She highlighted the city’s collaboration with the county in legal efforts to prevent the needle-exchange program. Despite initially obtaining an injunction, state intervention rendered their local authority moot. Foley expressed deep concerns about the significant number of needles left in parks, communities, and even flood district channels, posing serious safety hazards and preventing the use of public spaces.

Supervisor Andrew Do, known for spearheading the lawsuit against the state in 2018, emphasized the importance of accountability. Do suggested that those responsible for providing free needles should be identifiable through proper branding, enabling them to be held accountable for their actions. Despite their legal victory, the legislature’s intervention thwarted their efforts and led to the current situation.

Seeking a resolution, the supervisors united in endorsing a letter from Dr. Regina Chinsio-Kwong, the county’s chief health officer. Dr. Chinsio-Kwong outlined a range of recommendations for administering the program, aiming to address the concerns raised by the supervisors and the community at large. Her suggestions included the implementation of an efficient electronic system for the collection and disposal of syringes, an improvement over the previous inadequate practices. Furthermore, she proposed that each syringe be stamped with the Harm Reduction Institute’s (HRI) name, extended hotline hours for reporting discarded needles, and empowered the county to intervene if waste is left unattended.

Dr. Chinsio-Kwong expressed her reservations about the current proposal, citing the need for greater accountability in safe syringe disposal and collection. She stressed the importance of volunteers associated with the Harm Reduction Institute being knowledgeable about the county’s available resources for substance abusers. Dr. Chinsio-Kwong also emphasized the significance of enhanced follow-up with needle recipients, encouraging them to seek and utilize substance abuse services.

As the needle-exchange program’s fate hangs in the balance, the Harm Reduction Institute and state officials have yet to respond to the concerns raised by Orange County supervisors. This ongoing discussion highlights the pressing need for comprehensive measures that prioritize public safety, responsible disposal, and effective assistance for those struggling with substance abuse. The Orange County community remains vigilant in its pursuit of a solution that addresses the critical concerns at hand, ensuring a harmonious balance between public health and the welfare of its neighborhoods.