Santa Cruz County weighs updates to needle exchange program

Medical staff may start distributing syringes in the field

SANTA CRUZ — In the wake of a scuttled grassroots effort to launch a formal mobile hypodermic needle distribution program, Santa Cruz County leaders will look at updating its own existing syringe services program.

Responding to scientifically proven best practices and recommendations from a 2017 grand jury report, Health Services Agency Director Mimi Hall is recommending to the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the county Syringe Services Program expand operational hours at clinics in Santa Cruz and Watsonville, up to 20 hours a week at both sites, and begin having county Homeless Persons Health Project medical staff distribute needles in the field, in addition to existing sanitary injection supply handouts.

“It’s county-controlled and it’s in a clinical relationship,” Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin said of the proposed mobile needle distribution. “I believe that was a recommendation of the grand jury when it came out a couple of years ago. We’re still maintaining our one-to-one exchange, with a slight expansion of the program to include that clinical distribution in the field.”

Hall is not forwarding a recommendation by the 6-year-old Syringe Services Program Advisory Group to transition the county program to what is known as a needs-based distribution model, rather than the current one-for-one exchange. The advisory group recommended pairing the needs-based model with a required clinic visit for individuals without syringes to exchange.

The needs-based model, such as what was being proposed by the volunteer-operated Harm Reduction Coalition in its recently withdrawn application for state certification, has been a major point of contention among critics of local needle service programs. Harm Reduction Coalition Road Show program leader Denise Elerick withdrew her application last month, after questions about the group’s nonprofit fiscal sponsorship arose.

During its meeting Tuesday afternoon, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors also will consider launching an effort to assess and reduce improperly discarded syringe litter. Hall is recommending that supervisors work with the California Department of Public Health to study syringe litter countywide and return to the board by the end of September with a report. The report would then be the basis for a pilot program that would allow citizens to report syringe litter through the county’s existing Citizen Connect app.

June 9, 2019

Santa Cruz Sentinel

By Jessica A. York

 

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