SANTA ANA (CBSLA/AP) – In an emergency meeting Friday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors Orange County voted in favor of seeking a temporary restraining order to block a controversial needle exchange program which is scheduled to take effect on Monday.

The nonprofit Orange County Needle Exchange Program, which was approved by the California Department of Public Health Tuesday and has been met with significant opposition, would offer clean needles in Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Orange and Santa Ana for a period of two years, according to the O.C. Register. This marks the second time the OCNEP will operate a needle exchange. Earlier this year, its program in Santa Ana was shut down by city officials.

Orange County Board Chairman Andrew Do said he believes officials in those cities will join the county’s litigation.

Needle exchanges seek to provide drug users with clean needles to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, like HIV and hepatitis C.

The California Department of Public Health, Office of AIDS authorized the program in a recent letter, saying there is a need to address the spread of diseases. State officials, however, advised the nonprofit organization running the program to work with the Orange County Health Care Agency to reduce the level of discarded needles.

And the state pledged to keep working with local leaders on the used-needle litter issue.

“The city remains deeply concerned about the program, its proximity to Santa Ana schools, and the failure to put in place stronger exchange provisions that would reduce the danger of abandoned syringes,” the city of Santa Ana wrote in a news release earlier this week. “The new authorization does require an independent evaluator to assess syringe litter and report findings to CDPH, OA which could result in additional efforts to address syringe litter.”

State officials said in the letter authorizing the program that there “is a public health need for these services due to the significant risk for transmission of HIV and hepatitis C among people who inject drugs in Orange County.”

Orange County has been deemed “among the California counties most vulnerable to rapid spread of injection drug use-related HIV and HCV infections,” state officials wrote.

“Newly reported cases of chronic hepatitis C increased by 201 percent between 2011-15 in Orange County, and the rate of newly diagnosed HIV cases per 100,000 population increased by 24 percent between 2012 and 2016,” the state said in the letter.

Also, “very few” pharmacies in the county provide non-prescription syringe sales, according to the state.

In January, the OCNEP, the county’s first and only needle exchange program, was shut down after Santa Ana city officials denied its permit application.

Kyle Barbour, co-founder of the OCNEP, said the nonprofit’s application was denied by the city. The Register reported at the time that the city contended the move was necessary because officials believe discarded syringes littering the streets pose a public health risk.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he supports a lawsuit to stop the program.

“I think we’re going to have to look at all of our legal remedies,” Spitzer said.

Spitzer acknowledged that the spread of communicable diseases is a “public health issue that has to be addressed,” but said a needle exchange program is the wrong way to address it.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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