When my son was six months old, he would eat sand on the beach, no matter how much I deterred him! One visit became our last for many years because when he raised his head from the sand, a lid to a needle was in his mouth. Thirteen years later, my son and I were on walking along the beach during a storm and collected five syringes that had either washed up or were discarded in the drift. I am in favor of safe solutions for addicts not yet able to kick the habit of injection but I also fear for the safety of anyone wanting to enjoy this beautiful place we call home.
Benefits of Needle Exchange Programs:
Reduces diseases such as HIV, Hep C, and other blood borne infections
Provides a safe space and sterile needles
Referrals to substance abuse treatment
In 2017, over 14,600 needles were found in public spaces in the Santa Cruz area. Families live in fear of young children stepping on syringes while enjoying the many beautiful areas surrounding this beach town. While the needle exchange program is a great step toward helping to prevent diseases to and from addicts, better solutions are necessary to prevent the public from being exposed to this danger.
According to Mercury news, “The county’s Syringe Services Program, requires at least a 1 to 1 exchange of an old needle for new, to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases associated with injection drug use and to address improperly discarded syringes. In its June 2016 report the county Health Services Agency reported dispensing 25,355 syringes in the previous year, and collecting 33,599. While the program’s staff members do not count turned in needles, due to safety concerns, they do their “due diligence” by visually inspecting and weighing returned needles…”
Other needle exchange programs, such as one in San Francisco, suggest an open-access program rather than one-for-one exchange. The idea is that giving more syringes during a visit to the clinic reduces the risk of overusing a needle or sharing one due to scarcity. “A study of syringe exchanges in San Francisco, Chicago and Baltimore conducted in the early 1990s measured syringe re-use over time to assess the impact of these fairly new exchange programs. In all three cities, the percentage of people who reported using a syringe only once before returning it increased over time. But in Chicago—the city that did not operate on a strictly one-for-one exchange—the percentage of people reporting only one injection per syringe went up dramatically (from 6.4% to 74.2%) while the two other cities saw less of an impact. (San Francisco saw a rise from 10% to 29% in the three years prior to 1993; Baltimore found that 3.2% of people used syringes once before accessing the exchange and 11.6% did 6 months later).”
Needle exchange programs do work, yet I think Santa Cruz needs more sharps containers for easier disposal of used needles. When I was on the beach with my son, carefully collecting used needles, my concern was what to do next as I couldn’t just throw them away. Thankfully, there was a security guard patrolling the boardwalk that retrieved them from me. Had he not been there, though, I would have had to drive them to the county building which has the main sharps disposal container I know of in town. I think better solutions are necessary to keeping public spaces safe for everyone. Currently, there are no safe injection sites in the US that could reduce the amount of hazardous waste. Recovery is possible. Safety is paramount.
What we can do as a community:
If you find needles, please report it from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays in the city of Santa Cruz at 831-420-5160 or FoundNeedles@CityofSantaCruz.com
To report a found syringe to the Needle Solutions Team, visit takebacksantacruz.org/needles-in-public-spaces.
Talk to the county about more accesible sharps containers around town.
Encourage more research and legislation on safe injection sites to reduce the hazardous waste in the streets.
Have compassion for people who are struggling and refrain from shaming people who are abusing substances. This is an epidemic of frustrating proportions but the bickering I’ve witnessed regarding this topic is alarming. In order to help our community, we need to help ALL of the people in it. It may seem counterintuitive to provide tools that encourage self-harm. Providing safe options is the kindness the people who are struggling need the most.
“We say “needle exchange,” but open access—not one-for-one exchange—is best for health” https://betablog.org/open-access-syringes-better-than-one-for-one-needle-exchange/
“Syringe Services Programs” https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/ssps.html
“Benefits and Risks of Needle Exchange Programs” https://www.drugrehab.com/2017/11/06/pros-and-cons-of-needle-exchange-programs/
“'It's raining needles': Drug crisis creates pollution threat”
“Gov. Brown rejects plan for safe injection sites” https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/10/01/gov-brown-rejects-plan-for-safe-injection-sites/
“Santa Cruz County discarded needle count pushes 12,000” https://www.mercurynews.com/2016/09/20/web-needles-0921/