California Today: A Needle Exchange Program Stirs a Fight in Orange County

Friday: Public health experts spar with political leaders, more details emerge about the shooting in Bakersfield, and the “Voice of the Clippers” says he’ll retire.

Comments: 8

  1. The exchange in needle exchange looks to be in name only. If they required (or strongly suggested) a returned needle in exchange for a new needle, the number of improperly discarded needles would be minimal.

  2. There is no such thing as a needle exchange program. You are not required to exchange an old needle to get a new one. Let's face it, junkies are not that organized.

    Proponents of the programs know this, and see dirty needles littering the streets as a small price to pay for saving lives. In fact, many scoff at complaints about dirty needle litter as selfish or elitist.

  3. The most straightforward solution is parallel program that installs and maintains outdoor trash receptacles built for hazardous waste disposal. Put two outside the libraries. Put several near the transient encampments. Essentially, approach it like any other litter related problem, and facilitate obvious, easily accessible, safe ways to dispose of these things.

    This is just a symptom of the much larger problem, though. California has the highest poverty rate in the nation, and several regions – like Orange County – have burgeoning opioid crises of every variety. The proud "Not In My Backyard" community needs tor realize a few things here: A) your backyard ends at the property line, regardless of what startup you invented or what bank you work for. You actually can't dictate who exists in your town or county, or what they do there; B) the only way to start containing and minimizing this rampant drug use is to channel resources towards outreach programs with medication-assisted treatment for opioid abuse. Oakland's Highland Hospital has started dispensing buprenorphine on-demand in their ER, with remarkable results.

    In short, it's pretty easy to clean up your streets. It's also pretty easy to get the people on the streets clean. You just have to approach it from the right angle, and that means acknowledging the fact that the needle users are also members of these communities and residents of Orange County.

  4. @Januarium unfortunately we tried this, and it didn't work. We had thick steel indestructible needle disposal bins that homeless addicts nevertheless managed to pry into (using stolen industrial tools), so that they could shoot up all the tiny left-over drops of residue in each used needle. It is extremely disgusting, but illustrates the degree of desperation and terrible power of their addiction.

  5. Re CALPERS lack of degree, we don't (or a least aren't supposed to) discriminate in hiring based on race, sex, age, etc., why do we allow discrimination based on education?

    Our Country was founded on the principle of meritocracy not aristocracy.

    Examples of our Country's leaders without college educations abound, most notably Washington and Lincoln and more recently Gates and Zuckerberg.

    Let Frost lead and judge the actual results not the lack of the framed diploma on the wall.

  6. "There are a lot of misconceptions about needle exchange programs", says Nate Birnbaum. Not in San Francisco. Used needles litter the streets here. I find them buried in the sand at my kid's playground, in the doorways of my coffee shop, and the homeless often deposit them into water meter or mailboxes as soon as they inject--whatever is within arm's reach. You don't go a day without seeing one. Needle exchange programs are yet another sign of the extraordinary civil liberties San Francisco has granted to a population of people who cannot take care of themselves. I admire the pluck of a young med student like Nate Birnbaum, but the idealism of trying to stop disease has worn thin up here. Only after spending hundreds of millions of dollars over the past several decades taking care of a flood of addicted homeless are we now looking at committing the worst cases to mental hospitals. Fight on, Orange County residents--don't take the path we did.

  7. I haven’t seen many discarded needles but I constantly see homeless encampments still! (Oakland + Berkeley moreso than San Francisco)

  8. We had the same series of events in Santa Cruz 6-7 years ago. Needle programs aim to give clean needles to addicts, to reduce the need for reuse (an obvious public health risk). Public misperceptions abound, partly because of the way these programs present themselves and ignore public concerns. They should not be called "needle exchange" because "exchange" implies that an old needle is collected for every new needle given, but usually relatively few needles are collected. Addicts do often litter used needles carelessly in public places after shooting up, such litter increases with needle exchanges because the needles are freely available and no longer precious. Public fear rises that parks are less safe, children disappear from playgrounds after parents keep them away. The absence of children's laughter along with the already growing presence of homeless addicts and their dealers/suppliers changes the complexion of communities. This resultant blight degrades quality of life. Voters grow angry, and take out their wrath on the needle program. All of this is inevitable and predictable. Needle programs should know this story well, and try to find ways to mitigate needle waste (at a minimum, litter control/clean-up teams). But they usually take an aloof holier-than-thou stance and ignore valid public concerns. (Alternatives exist, such as setting up centers where nurses perform all injections, control all needles, and manipulate dosage over time to ween addicts.)