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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Interviews on KION-TV Central Coast News

Reporter Cassandra Arsenault from KION Central Coast News interviewed Ethan regarding two different topics on February 4, 2014

Water Rates (starting at 1:40)
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Santa Cruz County Needle Exchange (waiting for link)

Unofficial Santa Cruz County Needle Exchange Survey Preliminary Results

The Ethan Bearman Show

The survey I created for the unofficial Santa Cruz County Needle Exchange Survey public opinion poll has closed. I’d like to thank each and every person who took time to participate. Tomorrow I plan to have the complete report done and posted on this blog. In the meantime take a look at the unfiltered, not data cleansed, preliminary results. The complete report will include data cleansing, a description of methodology, and detailed analysis of results. Click the link below for the initial findings.

The official results are now available HERE

For more reference please visit the original post regarding the needle exchange and the thank you page after the survey.

Santa Cruz County Needle Exchange Survey

The Ethan Bearman Show


Results are now available, the report is complete. Please click HERE for the results.

With all of the discussions of the needle exchanges, I have put together a survey to use in discussions on the radio, with county officials, and elsewhere. I encourage each one of you to take this short, easy survey (less than two minutes of your time) and share with others. An email address is required by the survey company to reduce repeat surveys from people and will not be shared with anyone else. Click this link to take the survey

For more information on the needle exchange and associated information here are some helpful links:

Getting Off Right: A Safety Manual For Injection Drug Users

New county needle exchange program starts with increased accountability

The Santa Cruz Needle Exchange Hopes to Exchange Wasted Lives for Productive Ones

Street Outreach Supporters (SOS)

Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency

Thank you.

UPDATE (2013-07-14 09:30 PT) – I wrote this in response to a frustrated message in a forum elsewhere regarding the survey and whether public officials will ignore the will of the people.  “I cannot control what County elected or administrative officials do with this information. I can tell you that I discuss this topic on the air (AM 1080 KSCO) regularly. You can be assured that survey results will be shared with the HSA and with the County Board of Supervisors as well.
It is also important to note that in our representative democracy, elected leaders work for us, the citizens. If you are unhappy with their work, let them know. If you are still unhappy with their work during the next election cycle, find a candidate who is better aligned with what you find important. Volunteer for that candidate’s campaign, donate money to that candidate’s campaign, and vote for that candidate.

UPDATE #2 (2013-07-15 09:30 PT) – I received a complaint in another forum : There is no way this survey can reach a random sample of Santa Cruz residents because of the way it is being distributed. Highly unlikely it will carry weight with elected officials (nor should it), because of this flaw (which in the market research world we call “sample bias). Sorry to be down on your “survey,” but if you want to measure public opinion accurately you cannot distribute the survey in this way. You would need a random sample of residents.

My response – while this survey is not a complete project funded by anyone, I am doing this entirely on my own, you might be interested in a number of things:
1. This is posted all over – my Facebook page, Twitter, Google+, my blog (, my radio shows,,, and I am now handing out cards to people I encounter.
2. Web Based Network Sampling is a standard, documented, accepted, and peer-reviewed methodology. I suggest you start with Wejnert, C., & Heckathorn, D. D. (2008, June 10). Web-Based Network Sampling Efficiency and Efficacy of Respondent-Driven Sampling for Online Research. SOCIOLOGICAL METHODS & RESEARCH, 37(1), 105-134. 
3. Take a look at what Pew Research has to say about sampling –
4. Please review the questions in my survey and you will not find bias in the question structure, and with a mix of question types: dichotomous, multiple choice, and free response.
5. I encourage each person to share with everyone they know, regardless of political position, group affiliation, life experience, or social status. 

I encourage you to participate and share. The larger the sample size, the better idea we can get of where people stand.

Thank you.

Interview With Neal Coonerty

Neal Coonerty
Neal Coonerty, Chairman of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors

Today on KSCO Presents, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Neal Coonerty in-studio. Mr. Coonerty is a longtime citizen and business owner in Santa Cruz along with his extensive involvement in local politics.

As promised during the interview today, posted here is the spreadsheet of crime data from which I based my information. All underlying data comes from the U.S. D.O.J.


Listen to the interview online or mp3 download at The Ethan Bearman Show Podcast Site