Orange County has approved filing a lawsuit to try to stop a free needle-exchange program from starting up within cities in that area.
In an emergency meeting on Friday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved Chairman Andrew Do’s proposal to seek a legal injunction to stop the state-approved mobile needle giveaway, which was set to begin on Monday, according to a news release.
Elected officials from four cities in the county were also in attendance to speak against the proposed program that would have locations in Costa Mesa, Anaheim, Orange and Santa Ana.
The Costa Mesa City Council also held a meeting where members approved joining the county in the lawsuit to halt the initiative.
Local leaders said the program is “dangerous” and would hurt the community.
“This drug needle giveaway is a serious threat to public safety,” Do said in a written statement. “Drug addicts dump their dirty needles all over our community, putting our kids at risk.”
Opponents said the exchange would bring more crime along with discarded needles to the streets.
“This is not about needle exchange,” Supervisor Todd Spitzer said during the meeting. “This is about a society which is starting to sanction this kind of behavior and trying to tell all of us that it’s OK. It’s not OK. We’re losing our neighborhoods.”
“We find, and as a former DA, we know that when people need a fix, they’re not going to wait until they get back to wherever that’s the right place or where they’re from. They will get the hit whenever they get the needles,” Do told KTLA. “And so when they’re done they will discard the needles wherever they use them. We have found that to be the case here in Santa Ana in public libraries, in city parks, in school grounds, everywhere.”
Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido is among the officials who believe the program would do more harm than good.
“This is a very dangerous thing," he said. "I mean we’ve got a problem to start off with, but sometimes when you’re trying to make the problem better you can actually make the problem worse.”
Pulido went on to explain how a previous needle-exchange program in Santa Ana led to thousands of discarded syringes in the area. The city sent pictures of the needles to the state to stress its opposition to the program being approved, but the state OK'd the program in the four O.C. cities.
The proposal has prompted residents from both sides to voice their opinions, including in Costa Mesa where a protest against the needle-exchange plans was held on Thursday.
Those in support of the exchange said it aims to help stop the spread of HIV and hepatitis c among drug addicts.
“The purpose of exchange programs is to safely dispose of used syringes while providing sterile syringes and equipment to prevent infectious disease transmission,” the Orange County Needle Exchange Program (OCNEP) stated on its website.
OCNEP also explained that a person would receive the same amount of needles he or she turns in, plus 20 more. The maximum number of syringes given to any person would be set at 200.
OCNEP representatives said they were unable to attend the emergency meeting because of the short notice.
Dallas Augustine, who is on the group's board of directors, emailed the following statement to KTLA:
"OCNEP is grateful the CDPH has approved our application given us the opportunity to proactively combat the opioid crisis in Orange County. We have been in conversation with local officials, law enforcement, and community members and hope to continue working collaboratively with them moving forward. Though we are certified to begin next week, we’ll be waiting until September to begin operating so that we can continue working with local representatives in each city. We will continue as planned and look forward to serving our community."