Santa Ana Supports the Orange County Needle Exchange Program (OCNEP)
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Dear City Officials,
I am writing in strong support of the Orange County Needle Exchange Program (OCNEP), which is working to prevent the transmission of HIV & Hepatitis C by exchanging clean needles from used ones while also referring folks suffering from addiction to recovery services.
Syringe exchange programs help our community by providing a safe space to dispose of used needles. In San Diego, a study showed that police officers had 75% fewer needlestick injuries after their needle exchanged opened.
One of the main concerns that some of my neighbors have about OCNEP includes needle litter. Before OCNEP opened in February of 2016 injection drug users in Santa Ana had no other place to safely dispose of their needles. There are only 4 facilities to dispose of needles in Orange County and Santa Ana does not have one. OCNEP volunteers are aware that needle litter has been found in different locations across the Civic Center and have taken a number of steps to ameliorate this situation:
1. Every weekend OCNEP volunteers do a clean sweep at the Civic Center to pick up any discarded needles. Most of the time they only find syringes (without needle tips) and needle caps.
2. Starting October 7th, 2017 OCNEP implemented a 200 syringe cap. Participants can safely dispose of as many used needles as they would like but will only receive up to 200 in return. E.g. If someone is disposing of needles for some of their friends and bringing 250 they will only receive up to 200.
2a. This has lead to an increase in the ratio of needles recovered vs. those given out. During this time more participants are coming to the exchange, which leads to opportunities to connect them with other services including housing, health care, and substance use recovery services.
3. OCNEP was contacted by a local school asking for help with needle litter. Volunteers met with school officials and helped with cleaning up the school grounds. They continue working with the school to make sure they have the help they need to keep our children safe.
4. OCNEP has also been contacted by a local landscaping firm that had been finding needles during their normal business before OCNEP even existed. OCNEP now meets with and picks up the needles that this firm finds for free.
Another common complaint is that OCNEP supporters don’t live in Santa Ana. This is simply not the case and it distracts from the good work that OCNEP does on a weekly basis. A recent petition that OCNEP created gathered over 600 signatures from over 100 zip codes, with 95 signatures from 6 Santa Ana zip codes.
Opponents of OCNEP also complain that the program only operates in Santa Ana. OCNEP welcomes any collaboration to expand harm reduction services across the county in the midst of an unprecedented opioid crisis. OCNEP has and continues to seek more funding and local support in order to have mobile services and travel across Orange County during more hours and days. Our local community and officials should be working with OCNEP to spread their services instead of focusing on how to prevent a life-saving cost-effective public health intervention from existing.
Santa Ana has the second highest rate of overdose due to opioids (like heroin) and its rate of new HIV infection diagnoses in 2013 was 2.5 times higher than the remainder of the county. The proportion of new HIV infection diagnoses attributable to injection drug use is also higher in Santa Ana than in the rest of the county (20.2% versus 12% respectively) and substantially higher than the rest of the nation. Against this backdrop it is important to emphasize: OCNEP and their partners are saving people’s lives. OCNEP works with Solace Foundation to provide the life-saving medication naloxone to reverse overdoses due to opioids. Together, they have distributed over 4,000 naloxone kits, which, in the hands of exchange clients, has led to the reversal of over 1,300 overdoses since February 2016!
Another complaint is that OCNEP has not worked to show that the rates of HIV & Hepatitis C have decreased since beginning operations in February 2016. Again, this is a false accusation. OCNEP works with the AIDS Service Foundation of Orange County to provide HIV & Hepatitis C testing on site. They have tested over 200 people in 2017 alone and link every person with a positive result with appropriate and timely care. OCNEP continues to work with local healthcare agencies to determine the impact they’ve had in decreasing the rate of blood-borne disease transmission. It is worth bearing in mind that decades of peer-reviewed research shows that needle exchange programs lower the rate of infectious disease transmission, not only by providing clean injection supplies but also by providing condoms and other safe-sex items.
In summary, it would be a grave mistake for Santa Ana to shut down the Orange County Needle Exchange Program. To do so would be to sacrifice public health in the name of political expediency. As the opioid epidemic continues to ravage my county and more than 140 people die every day across the United States due to an opioid-related overdose, Santa Ana should be compassionate and intelligent and help our neighbors suffering from addiction. They are someone’s child; someone’s sister or brother; another person’s partner. One life lost due to this epidemic is one too many.
I hope that you will support the re-certification of OCNEP and help Santa Ana continue to lead Orange County in providing services to our most vulnerable residents.
Brianna Patti, Santa Ana resident
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