Orange County to file lawsuit, restraining order against needle exchange program

SANTA ANA, Calif. (KABC) -- Orange County officials on Friday announced they will be planning to file a lawsuit and temporary restraining order to block a controversial needle exchange program.

In an emergency meeting at the Orange County Hall of Administration in Santa Ana, OC Board Chairman Andrew Do asked the board for approval to stop the program.

The mobile Orange County Needle Exchange program plans to distribute new needles in exchange for dirty ones. Program leaders said they will distribute one clean needle for every one needle returned, plus 20 with a capped maximum of 200 per person. It's all in an effort to stop the spread of HIV and hepatitis C among drug users.

Despite widespread opposition on the local level, the California Department of Public Health approved the program to operate in Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Orange and Santa Ana.

The program was authorized to begin as early as Monday, but program leaders announced they will wait until September so they can keep working with local representatives.

Each city has sided with the county by opposing the plan.

"Sometimes when you try to make the problem better, you can actually make it worse, and, unfortunately, that's what I believe occurred here," said Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido.

The needle exchange program originally began in 2016 at the Santa Ana Civic Center, but closed last January after the city denied it a permit, citing a public health risk.

"Based on our prior experience here in Orange County, needle exchange programs negatively impact our neighborhoods. The used needles are discarded in public libraries, city parks, sidewalks, jeopardizing the health and safety of the public," Do said.

The nonprofit maintained in a statement that its "harm reduction approach is a key, research-driven way to save lives and quell the spread of infectious disease."

"We know that there are some folks that this program will surely help, but we all know in life there are some bad apples out there that maybe, given a needle, may still share it and maybe just discard it," Anaheim spokesperson Mike Lyster said.

The Orange County Needle Exchange program said it plans to respond to neighbors' concerns about needle litter "by providing more consistent sharps disposal, community needle sweeps, and a hotline to report improperly discharged syringes."

Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the program plans to distribute as many as 20 clean needles in exchange for one dirty one. That information has since been updated.
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