REGION — San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond and five city leaders have sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom opposing existing and proposed needle exchange and drug paraphernalia distribution programs in North County.
Along with Desmond, who represents District 5, the letter was signed by Mayors Keith Blackburn of Carlsbad, Rebecca Jones of San Marcos, Dane White of Escondido and John Franklin of Vista. Oceanside Deputy Mayor Ryan Keim also signed the letter.
The letter was also sent to the state Department of Public Health.
It states that the county government “has recently made it clear that it intends to distribute thousands of needles using state funds under the guise of a ‘harm reduction’ program. The only thing these programs do is further harm our communities stricken with substance-abuse disorders.”
According to Desmond’s office, the county several months ago applied to the state public health department for funding to be used toward harm-reduction efforts.
According to the letter, the program “admits outright not all needles distributed will be collected. Needles are already commonly found in our parks, beaches, waterways, canyons and sidewalks.
“Within one year, as many as 500,000 needles could be distributed in our region, without any mechanism in place to compel users into treatment,” the leaders stated. “By giving out needles and drug paraphernalia, we are enabling and implicitly condoning illegal drug use without accountability or requirement for treatment.”
The county’s Health and Human Services Department did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The leaders said they wanted to help communities deal with the drug issue by providing overdose prevention education; Naloxone, a drug that reverses overdoses; and behavioral health and social support services.
“While we understand and appreciate the attempt to help our vulnerable populations, needle exchange and associated programs are detrimental to neighborhoods and communities, and we are united against the implementation of these programs in North County,” according to the letter.
“Instead, we ask for your help in addressing the root causes of substance abuse, by providing prevention resources, education and treatment programs to encourage healthy change,” according to the letter. “We insist on providing a hand up, not handouts that perpetuate illegal drug use. Together, we can help put people on a path to recovery and help end of the cycle of abuse.”
In January 2021, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of developing a needle exchange program, nullifying a 1997 board decision. Desmond and his colleague Joel Anderson were the dissenting votes.
During that board meeting, Christian Ramers of Family Health Centers of San Diego said the program involved “a whole lot more than just exchanging needles.”
“We are dealing with poverty, mental health and infectious diseases in a group that is very hard to reach and treat,” he said.