In 2016, Orange County, California, opened its first needle exchange in an effort to cut back on risky injection practices and the death toll of the region’s opioid epidemic. However, 22 months after its opening, the city of Santa Ana has decided to close down the facility, citing neighborhood concerns about the public health hazards posed by dirty needles, the OC Weekly reports.
The shutdown comes as cities across the country continue to struggle with the harmful effects of opioid addiction, including overdose deaths and an increased risk for hepatitis C virus (HCV) and HIV infection. It comes after the city of Santa Ana denied the nonprofit Orange County Needle Exchange Program (
One of the exchange’s founders says the city has had problems with the harm reduction site since its inception. Earlier this year while OCNEP awaited its permit, local police showed up at every needle exchange the facility held. The city also required a local nonprofit responsible for distributing naloxone, the opioid-reversing drug, to operate in a different part of the building. According to advocates, this severely impacted the effectiveness of naloxone distribution at the site, cutting back on its opioid-fighting potential.
Citing a number of complaints from parents about finding dirty needles in the city’s main library, Santa Ana City Councilman Jose Solorio told reporters that the syringe exchange wasn’t approved for a permit because it was creating major health hazards.
Moving forward, city officials say they would consider a mobile clinic model that would serve cities in north, central and south Orange County. Until then, those suffering from opioid addiction in the region will have no legal syringe exchange services.
Meanwhile, overdose deaths in Orange County have increased more than 63 percent since 2006; the OC has the fourth-highest number of HIV-positive patients in California—a number that has doubled in less than 10 years. Health officials also say the county has nearly 1,000 cases of hepatitis C.