California officials are making a last-minute play to stop a controversial needle exchange program from operating in Orange County.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors decided in an emergency meeting Friday to attempt to block the activity of the Orange County Needle Exchange Program, the Los Angeles Times reports. Chairman Andrew Do said officials will file a lawsuit and seek a temporary restraining order against the program, according to the Times.
The needle exchange program — which intends to provide individuals with clean syringes in exchange for dirty ones turned in — secured California Department of Public Health (CDPH) approval to begin operations as soon as Monday, ABC7 reports. State approval trumps local concerns, but the lawsuit could threaten CDPH’s authorization.
The program is meant to help slow the spread of illnesses like HIV and hepatitis, which can be contracted by reusing needles. It had previously operated in Santa Ana, but was shut down by the city over concerns about the number of discarded needles found in the surrounding area, according to the Times. Orange County officials behind the latest attempt to shutter the program shared these concerns, the Times reports.
“Needle programs like this are a proven failure for the neighborhoods that have to live with their impact, which tend to be lower-income areas,” Do said in an email. “Drug needles end up in public libraries, parks and on sidewalks and jeopardize the health and safety of our children.”
Officials from Santa Ana, Anaheim and Costa Mesa have also spoken out against the program, according to local media reports.
Needle exchange board member Dallas Augustine said in a statement provided to TIME that the program always planned to wait until early September to begin operations, to allow time to work with officials from the county and its cities to address concerns such as needle litter. Nonetheless, Augustine maintained that reaching a compromise is “imperative.”
“It is imperative that we all do our part to treat people with addiction issues with respect instead of stigmatizing them,” the statement reads. “No community is untouched by the opioid crisis and we must address it with proven strategies to reduce death and disease. Harm reduction has been shown to work time and time again. OCNEP understands the concerns of the community, and is committed to addressing them.”
Research does suggest that needle exchange programs can cut back on rates of blood-borne illnesses such as HIV, and likely do not encourage additional drug use. After Vice President Mike Pence, then the governor of Indiana, implemented a needle exchange program in the state’s Scott County in 2015, rates of HIV transmission fell dramatically.
As the opioid crisis wears on, needle exchanges now operate in cities nationwide. Philadelphia has also announced its intention to become the first U.S. city to operate a safe injection facility, where drug users could inject drugs under medical supervision.
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