County Needles Are Littering Some NorCal Streets. Are Changes Needed?

Activists are urging counties in northern California to reassess their needle exchange policies to thwart what they call a growing threat to public safety.

San Francisco and Santa Cruz are among some two dozen cities and counties with authorized syringe exchange programs (SEPs) in California. The programs are aimed at preventing the spread of disease by encouraging clean needle use and reducing needle sharing among addicts. But recent data suggests the donated needles are becoming a problem themselves.

More than 150,000 syringes are discarded on San Francisco’s streets each month. A group that cleans up needles in Santa Cruz says it collects about 250,000 on a monthly basis there. They’ve already resulted in 12 injuries, including 6 children.

There is widespread support for SEPs within the medical and scientific communities. But critics have long argued that SEPs require strict one-for-one exchange policies to prevent the proliferation of syringes on public streets. In San Francisco, that’s not happening. According to the Chronicle, San Francisco collects only about 60 percent of the needles it hands out.

Santa Cruz says it does have a one-for-one exchange policy and insists it’s taking in far more needles than it dolls out. Take Back Santa Cruz takes issue with that claim, however.

What Santa Cruz does is accept safe containers. The number of needles being exchanged is assessed by their weight.

“I don’t know what’s in those containers,” said Take Back Santa Cruz’s David Giannini. “It could be syringes. It could be rocks for all we know.”

Giannini said more information and transparency is needed to get a clearer picture of what’s going on in Santa Cruz.

So-called needle litter was the reason cited by Santa Ana officials when they closed down Orange County’s only clean needle exchange program. Vox has more on the effort to get another exchange program up and running in the region here

See also: San Francisco’s new needle team to get van and branded jackets