Take Back Santa Cruz

Needles in Santa Cruz Update

Take Back Santa Cruz has been working in conjunction with leadership in Santa Cruz City and County to decrease the used hypodermic needles found in our neighborhoods and parks.  This issue is a complex and detailed one that the TBSC Needles Solutions Team has been on the forefront of for many months.

Please view the last update to educate yourself on solution team finds and information: MARCH UPDATE


TBSC has allowed the County Heath Department the time to reorganize the failing program and put what they believed the best practices are in place.  As many of you know from the March Update, TBSC had many ideas that we sourced from successful programs across the nation.  The Needle Solutions Team is also keeping track of needles found via our Facebook page and website through a tracking system. NEEDLES FOUND BY TBSC MEMBERS   The reason for this community tracking system is the City and County do not track what they find.  We felt we had to do this to show trends and gather information for the entire community.  Of course we would love these numbers to be zero.  We still have hope that working together as one community will take us there.

Highlights of Tracking System:

Since the new Syringe Services Program (4/30), 442 needles have been found in public areas. This averages to 4.5 needles found by the public each day after the new program.  Two reports of note this month were Report 202 (found in the bleachers at Harvey West Park.  Children were playing nearby) and Report 203 (found a needle sticking up out of the kelp near the waterline while returning from paddle boarding).  


Here are the counts for the past 8 months from December 8th through August 8th.  

Total count – 1421 needles found in public spaces

Number of needle sticks – 2 people (1 was a child)



One individual that TBSC has found amazingly helpful is Talk Show Host Ethan Bearman.  He has brought the needle discussion to the forefront.  Ethan’s Unofficial Santa Cruz County Needle Exchange Survey  was informative as well as his show on KSCO 1080 12-2 weekdays except Wednesday.  Listen to PODCASTS.  He has interviews with County Health Officials as well as local leaders on the subject.


On July 1st the team had comprehensively reviewed the new program in hopes that they heard some of the communities concerns.  These are the questions we posed after our review to County Health Director Giang Nyugen.  These questions were sourced from the team as well as the community at large.



First of all I want to thank you for being accessible to me.  I realize that the community has reached fever pitch and I appreciate our relationship through it all.  We have waited for your new website to come out so that any questions that people had could be investigated there first before posing them to you.  Here is a list of questions that we have sourced from the community. 


1.      Along with the needles what other materials are being handed out?  Before there was a “care package” that included a cooker, tie off, alcohol wipes.

2.      What written materials are being handed out along with the needles?  Did the County create new materials with information on needle exchange? Can we get electronic files or hard copies of them? Would every person exchanging needles get a copy of this material?

3.      Is SOS using the county van for home/personal deliveries on Thursdays?  If so what type of oversight is the county providing for Thursday deliveries? Does the county send a staff person with SOS volunteers on Thursday deliveries? What’s being done to ensure anti-police material or any other non-related needle exchange material isn’t being distributed?

4.      How will county funding for the needle exchange work? In previous years Shoot Clean received a grant from the county for materials. Will they still receive this grant or will all county funding for the needle exchange be managed by the health department?

5.      Was there new training for County workers?  Were SOS volunteers included in that?

6.      Under the exceptions for 1:1 the County states that someone with thin skin may need more needles.  Why can’t they bring back their 2:2 or 3:3?  What does the exception of needing more needles have to do with the ability to bring them back?  Many people are confused by this.

7.      Are there any conversations in the works regarding bear proof needle collection bins across SC County?  What can we do to be a part of that conversation?  Is there information I can give the community to update them?

8.      Page 3 – Indicates that utilization data and reports will be regularly posted on the Santa Cruz County Syringe Services Program website (http://www.santacruzhealth.org/phealth/2ssp.htm) .  When will the first report or data file be posted?  Please note that page 12 indicates that  the monthly report for May should be available now.

9.      Page 9 (Section XIII) – The number of needles to be given out at the initial encounter is 15.  Subsequent exchanges of syringes are to be made on a 1 for 1 basis with medical exception.  What happens if a client comes in after the 1st visit and does not have any needles?

10.Page 9 – Does the initial participant get registered with a government issued photo id so the SSP has a formal record of the client?  The concern is giving out 15 needles the second visit under a different name.

11.Page 9 – What happens if a client comes in and states that they have mis-placed their needle.  Are they issued another one at the time of the visit?  Are they turned away?  

12.Page 10 – The exception group includes sex worker and known mental illness.   Please clarify why these are exceptions.

13.The website has the SOS link. – When one opens the link the document states “The SOS Emeline exchange closed at the end of April.  County Public Health has started their own exchange.  Call Health Services at 454-2437 for more details.  It goes on to say “we exchange about 20,000 syringes a month.  Do they still distribute 20,000 per month?  If not should the SOS link be updated?

14.What exactly will be included in the reports?  What systems are in place to ensure proper collection of data?  The following items are used by other exchange programs to ensure accountability and reporting.  Which will we be including?

  • Anonymous unique ID’s issued
  • ID’s used to quantify information on participants for required reports
  • Mark the needles with identifying stickers
  • Reports should include:
    • A. Number of enrolled participants; 
    • B. Aggregate information on the characteristics of program participants (gender, age, race/ethnicity, etc.); 
    • C. Number of syringes collected from participants, including the average number furnished per participant per transaction;
    • D. Number of syringes furnished to participants including the average number collected per participant per transaction;
    • E. Number and types of services directly provided or provided by referral to participants, not limited to referrals for HIV counseling and testing and/or health care services: including evaluation and treatment for HIV infection, Hepatitis A-C, sexually transmitted infections, tuberculosis; family planning; obstetrical and prenatal care; supportive services; and substance use treatment services and; 
    • F. Any significant problems encountered and program milestones achieved.                                                                                                   I realize there are a lot of questions here.  Please feel free to give answers to us on a rolling basis.  The more information and answers I can give the public the better.  I think that most of them just want to feel heard.  Questions answered in a timely manner is a major step in the right direction.  I will post the questions with answers for everyone.  I truly believe that we will come out of this a better community.  There is a way to have accountability and safety for everyone involved in this process.

Thank you again.  I look forward to hearing from you.  I am available to meet in person again if you would like.

Analicia Cube


Giang responded back with the following:


In response to your inquiry below, attached you will find information pertaining to the inquiry. The Health Services Agency (HSA)  will post the information on the County Health Services Agency’s Public Health Division’s website for the Syringe Services Program (under Frequently Asked Questions) so staff and the general public can also have access to the same information. 

HSA will continue updating and posting additional information regarding the SSP. So stay tuned!

In partnership,

Giang Nguyen, Director

They did post answers to our questions under a new FAQ tab on their site: CLICK HERE  Also, they did make some changes to their site after we asked our questions which we appreciated.  We are disappointed that Santa Cruz County has chosen to do certain practices that no other successful programs do like giving away cookers for people to cook their drugs in.  Also, we found the “exceptions” for returning 1:1 far to lenient.  We believe that no matter the persons situation if they take a needle they can return a needle.  One exception was excessive drug use causing thin skin and needing two needles.  Our confusion is why someone with thin skin that needed two needles to shoot up can’t return the two needles.  Keeping the 1:1 policy.


The most recent news is the latest report from County Health. SENTINEL STORY

“One of the reforms implemented when the county took over the program was to implement a one-for-one exchange. Some have been skeptical because the county allows people, with medical approval, to take up to 30 needles with them if they brought one in.

Fewer than one-quarter of users, or 124, were given medical exceptions. Of those, just two took the full complement of 30 needles, and 49 took fewer than 10.

“These numbers better alarm the entire community how out of control illicit drug use is, with Santa Cruz neighborhoods experiencing the majority of the consequences,” Robinson said. “The report shows little follow up with clients, so show me how that is not enabling?”


As suspected 124 people out of 650 received “special exceptions” not having to participate in the 1:1 exchange.  When other cities across the nation have a strict 1:1 policy, Santa Cruz has found a way to skirt almost one quarter of their participants around this successful policy.  New questions have risen from this article.  Many new questions.  Some are ones we have been asking all along and haven’t yet received answers to.   The Needle Team will be meeting this week.  We will keep pushing for answers and stay on this issue.  Most leaders have decided to “kick the can” down the road in hopes that it will go away.  One County Supervisor has even said that it’s “Not his problem” and he could care less what happens.  It’s mostly in the City of Santa Cruz, not his district.

Thank you to all of you that have stayed on this issue and keep it in the forefront.  There is a strong attempt to make this go away through lip service numbers and half way there policies.  County Health and people within their walls have worked hard on this.  We as a community need to be thankful for that.  We also need to continue to advocate for participants, participants in this community at large.

Action Above Words!

TBSC Needle Team


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