Last week, Senator John Moorlach held a press conference with elected officials from Anaheim, Orange and Costa Mesa, as well as OC District Attorney Todd Spitzer, to announce he is introducing legislation to bar needle exchanges from operating in a city without permission from that city.
The legislation, Senate Bill 689, is in response to a controversy that erupted last year after the state health department authorized the OC Mobile Needle Exchange to begin handing out needles in Anaheim, Orange and Costa Mesa – all of which opposed having the program operate in their boundaries.
The three cities went to court to obtain an injunction stopping the needle exchange program.
Standing in front of Orange City Hall, Moorlach – whose district includes east Anaheim – said, “I’m not here to debate the efficacy of a needle exchange program. What I want to address is local control.”
He said needle exchange programs should only operate in a city with that city’s permission, declaring, “Elected city leaders should not be forced to litigate if they oppose unilateral establishment of needle exchange services.”
SB 689 would require the State Department of Health to obtain the cooperation of a city or other jurisdiction in order to authorize a needle exchange program in that city.
Joining Moorlach at the press conference were Anaheim Councilman Trevor O’Neil, Orange Mayor Mark Murphy, Orange Councilman Chip Monaco, Costa Mesa Councilmember Sandy Genis, OC District Attorney Todd Spitzer and Tamara Jimenez of Anaheim Lighthouse, a drug and alcohol detox center.
O’Neil made a strong case against needle exchange programs and the need to empower local governments to prohibit them within their boundaries, noting the explosion of used hypodermic needles discarded in parks and other public spaces – such the the 14,000 used needles recovered while clearing out the Santa Ana River Trail encampment last year.
“After opening our first emergency homeless shelter just this last December and clearing out encampments – from La Palma Park alone we recovered 115 needles from that site,” said O’Niel. “And last October, an eight-year old boy was pricked by a used needle while playing in Manzanita Park.”
While acknowledging the good intentions behind needle exchange programs, O’Neil highlighted the danger of “trading the health risks of sharing needles for a greater health issue: exposing the unsuspecting public to carelessly discarded needles.”
“No one should have to worry about encountering a used needle at a park, on a sidewalk, outside of a school, or anywhere else,” O’Neil continued, pointing out that easier access to needles has exacerbated homelessness in Anaheim.
O’Neil said a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach from the state on needle exchanges is bad for Anaheim and at the March 5 Anaheim City Council meeting, he agendized council consideration of a resolution of support for Senator Moorlach’s SB 689.
Dallas Augustine from the OC Needle Exchange Program tweeted criticism of Moorlach’s bill:
As in this instance, “local control” has historically been used as an excuse to deprive people of needed resources. Rather than join the fight against the opioid epidemic, SB 689 attempts to weaponize the law to deprive our most vulnerable citizens of harm reduction services. https://t.co/sfTI4Tjh5S
— Dallas Augustine (@dallasaugustine) March 2, 2019