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Groups sound off on syringes as comment deadline nears

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—A Santa Cruz-based community organization this month publicly stated its opposition to a proposal that would increase the distribution of needles to drug addicts, saying that similar efforts have led to increased numbers of used ones found in public places.

The letter by Take Back Santa Cruz (TBSC), dated Jan. 2, also states that the proposal by the Harm Reduction Coalition of Santa Cruz County (HRC) would actually harm the county’s syringe distribution and addiction services program.

“…in the approximately 18 months that it has been operating without certification, the HRC has caused the number of clients seen at the County SSP to plummet, sadly reducing the number of opportunities for people suffering from addiction to receive medical treatment, HIV testing, and rehab referrals,” the letter by TBSC reads.

HRC already hands out clean needles at Coral Street between Limekiln and River Streets on Sundays. The group hopes to add a home delivery service for drug users. They said they would not hand out needles in any city, county, or state parks. 

The proposal is currently being considered by the California Department of Public Health, with a public comment period ending on Jan. 20.

HRC’s distribution is not part of the program run by the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency. The nonprofit withdrew an application last year to distribute needles in Watsonville, Felton and Santa Cruz after a public outcry. 

HRC claims that its services reduce needle-born diseases among addicts, and that they are intended to supplement the county’s program. They reject assertions that their activities lead to increased numbers of dirty needles being found. 

The group says that last year its volunteers collected 6,600 more needles than it handed out. The program run by the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency, which requires drug users to hand in one used needle for every new one they want.

HRC also offers education on disease and overdose prevention, safer injection, and proper syringe disposal. Other services include distribution of naloxone, safer sex supplies, fentanyl test strips, collection and safe disposal of used syringes, and access to sterile syringes and other crucial injection supplies as needed.

TBSC says that the large numbers of needles found by residents on beaches and in parks can be tied directly to unsanctioned distribution. 

“The HRC has also caused a substantial, documented increase in the number of discarded needles found in Santa Cruz,” the group says in its letter.

For information, visit www.bit.ly/35xtydZ. To submit a comment before the Jan. 20 deadline, email them to [email protected]

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