March 30, 2014
The impact of publicly discarded needles on local citizens and families is undeniable. A father stepped on a needle and is facing a lifetime of medical testing. A 5-year-old girl who stepped on a needle at Blue Ball Park was so terrified of getting a blood test she ran from the medical clinic. Mothers and children regularly find needles in the neighborhood. Families are avoiding certain parks and children must wear shoes at the beach. Often overlooked in this debate are the victims of crimes committed by drug users to buy drugs to fill these needles.
No Witch Hunt or Mass Hysteria, This is Reality
This is not a “witch hunt” or mass hysteria. This is reality. Take Back Santa Cruz’s Needles Solutions Team has recorded over 2,700 needles in 15.5 months. There were six people stuck by needles (three were children). One source of needles is the county’s Syringe Services Program (SSP), which distributes free needles to drug users. While their goal is to reduce transmission of HIV and hepatitis among drug users, it must be balanced with public safety. Unfortunately, the balance has tipped in favor of drug users at the detriment of families.
There is no acceptable level of risk to ourselves or our children. The risk of infection from discarded needles may be “low,” but it is not zero. Hepatitis can live outside the body for lengthy periods of time, and there are documented cases of hepatitis spread from discarded needles. Needle sticks also cause devastating anxiety, inconvenience and financial crisis.
Our Needles in Public Spaces Log provides a small snapshot. It doesn’t include needles not reported by landscapers, city/county workers, and citizens who haven’t heard of our log.
Needles found during camp cleanups constitute less than half of logged finds. Other locations include beaches, schools, parks and sidewalks. Needles are incidental to the 60,000 pounds of waste picked up by The Santa Cruz Clean Team (not part of TBSC). Volunteers have no motivation to “hunt” or fabricate needles.
County run – SSP likely contributes to the needle problem
1,799 needles (many near the SSP) were found since the SSP’s April 30, 2013, inception. Needle finds include other items from the SSP, such as fliers, unused sharps containers, tie-offs, cookers and wipes. Additionally, there are just two pharmacies in the city that dispense needles without prescription.
SSP/Emeline neighbors have experienced an uptick in needles, crime and suspicious activity. Similarly, the Bixby/Barson Street needle giveaway caused harm to that neighborhood from September 2009 to January 2013.
SSP isn’t a true “exchange.” There’s an exhaustive list of exceptions to a one-to-one exchange. Returned needles are weighed, not physically counted. The county’s claim that it collects more needles than it dispenses is questionable. The county has rejected our recommendations, including marking/tracking needles, physical counts and moving the SSP to a non-residential area.
The efficacy of needle-exchange programs is dubious. A recent review of past studies revealed there’s “only tentative evidence that (NEPs) are effective in preventing HIV and insufficient support for their preventing HCV”. New studies show that NEPs have no effect on the rate of hepatitis transmission.
Santa Cruz citizens are compassionate but many disagree that NEPs “help” drug addicts. Several see NEPs as enabling, especially when viewed in context with other no-strings-attached services for drug addicts. Many want more beds for rehab instead. Others object to the SSP because their neighborhood has become dangerous. Still others used to support the SSP but have become frustrated with the lack of acknowledgment of community concerns. Most counties don’t have NEPs.
The real facts are simple
Too many needles are being inappropriately discarded in public spaces throughout our community. It is the county’s and city’s responsibility to do what it can to help ensure the safety of our residents and visitors — controlling, tracking and limiting needle distribution will reduce the health risks to our community. Take Back Santa Cruz’s Needles Solutions Team is simply advocating for better harm-reduction practices for our entire community.
This was submitted by Analicia Cube on behalf of the Take Back Santa Cruz’s Needles Solutions Team.