Santa Cruz County Needle Exchange is Failing the Community

Needles Clean Team Santa Cruz

Photo: Clean Team Santa Cruz

Last year I performed a survey and series of interviews on the new Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (HSA) run Syringe Exchange Program (SEP), commonly referred to as a needle exchange.

The HSA run SEP is failing the community and the leadership, both the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors and the HSA, are refusing to address community concerns under the banner of public health.

A quick review, April 30, 2013 the county took over responsibility for exchanging needles from a private group. The purpose of the SEP, according to the county, “the primary goal of the SSP is to work in partnership with the community to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases associated with injection drug use and to address the community’s concern regarding improperly discarded syringes.”

Needles Clean Team

Photo: Clean Team Santa Cruz

Along with six reported sticks (stepping on a used needle penetrating the flesh, typically the foot) three of which were children, and 2,266 needles found in the last 14 months, do these pictures look like the County is fulfilling its stated purpose? I think not.

Since the beginning I have hounded County Supervisors and the HSA to label their needles so we can have data on where these needles are derived: whether SEP, pharmacies, or other outside sources. They refuse to address the labeling issue. They refuse to acknowledge six people stepping on needles. They refuse to recognize the reality of the situation.

In light of this failure to protect the community and the environment, I am forced to retract my previous support for a one-to-one SEP run by the county and call for a complete dismantling of the program until they agree to address community concerns about safety, waste, and the environment.

How can the bureaucrats and politicians continue to ignore such a problem and hide behind the public health argument, while ignoring the community at large and the heroin epidemic?

These two pictures above were taken on February 10, 2014 after cleaning up in the Harvey West Park area of Santa Cruz. From one of the cleaners: “281 needles found. Location: top of main Evergreen path, 40 feet beyond under the huge fallen redwood trees there was a camp. Below that camp was 20 used needles scattered near a big bag the needles.. in the ivy, in the creek. I’m sure I missed a few. We cleaned out the camp (about a 1 Ron Truck load), and demoed the area. The area is visible from the top of the path.”

UPDATE 2/11/2014 16:44 PST: I neglected to mention the ~200 needles washing up yesterday on Seabright beach as well.

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5 thoughts on “Santa Cruz County Needle Exchange is Failing the Community

  1. Needle exchange simply gives a green light to drug use, I say let em use dirty needles if theyre so stupid as to do so (which they are)!

  2. Great big needle problem was reported on Seabright Beach last night. It must be very hard to stay on a topic until completion. TV channels 8 and 46 both discussed Santa Cruz needle and problems or dangers; but the newspaper bypassed that 9:00 meeting concerning safety, or lack of, by the county supervisors today – more “sweetness and light” news. Obviously different worlds!

  3. While I appreciate your observations and your effort to accurately present a statistical overview, this issue deserves much more public discussion. I would be happy to talk about needle exchange from the perspective of a long time volunteer and supporter.

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