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Costa Mesa to decide tonight on permanent ban of needle exchange programs

Organizers of the Orange County Needle Exchange Program are waiting for a court to decide whether they can operate a mobile program they hoped to launch last year, but the question could become moot in at least one of the four cities the nonprofit planned to serve.

Three weeks after voting to extend a short-term ban on syringe exchange programs into next summer, the Costa Mesa City Council on Tuesday, Aug. 6, will consider making the prohibition permanent. Anaheim will take up the issue a week later, when city leaders discuss whether a temporary ban expiring Aug. 29 should last longer.

Needle exchange programs provide injection drug users with clean syringes and safe disposal of used sharps in an effort to limit the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C and infections that can result from reusing or sharing needles.

The Orange County exchange launched in 2016 in the Santa Ana Civic Center and was the only such program in the county, but it was shut down in early 2018 after Santa Ana officials denied the nonprofit a permit to continue operating, citing used needles that littered public areas in and around the Civic Center.

Program organizers were granted a state permit to start a new mobile syringe exchange, but the county and three of the four cities where the mobile program would have made stops – Anaheim, Costa Mesa and Orange – sued to block it. The fourth city, Santa Ana, did not join the suit.

Mayor Katrina Foley said Monday, Aug. 5, that Costa Mesa officials haven’t seen evidence of a need for the program, such as a spike in diseases transmitted by shared syringes. And, they consider the proposed location of the Costa Mesa stop near an elementary school as “not an appropriate location.”

Mahan Naiem, who is on the needle exchange’s board of directors, said clients who couldn’t make it to Los Angeles, where the next closest needle exchange operates, have resorted to used needles, and he’s heard stories of cellulitis and other infections. Opioid abuse is a national problem, he said, but peripheral harms from shared needles could be reduced.

“There’s a lot of negatives that come with injecting opiates. Some of them don’t have to be there,” Naiem said.

A trial date in the lawsuit by the cities and county has been pushed from this fall to next spring. Meanwhile, the Orange County Needle Exchange Program has counter-sued to challenge the temporary bans in Anaheim and Costa Mesa and a rule in Orange that bars such programs from getting a city business license, said Wayne Winthers, an attorney representing Orange in the matter.

Orange Mayor Mark Murphy and Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido both said their cities remain opposed to the needle exchange as currently proposed.

Chapman University School of Pharmacy Dean Ronald Jordan said he’d like to organize a broader discussion about syringe exchange programs in a public forum, and he’d be happy to host it at his school.

“I think the evidence is pretty clear that needle exchange reduces health consequences in the community,” Jordan said.

But, he added: “There’s no question that there are problems if these programs are not adequately funded and designed in a way so that they work.”

Source: Orange County Register

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