Fresno County and City Leaders Spar Over Needle Exchange Program

Fresno County has responded to a press conference held by Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer and Councilmembers Garry Bredefeld and Miguel Arias on Monday regarding a free needle exchange program.

The conference was held one week after county supervisors approved the program’s transition from the street to the county’s public health department, located downtown.  

Mayor Jerry Dyer said the board failed to consider the impact on surrounding businesses, neighborhoods, and buildings for the school district. Dyer said the county also failed to reach out to city officials to get their input first.

“It will have an impact – a negative impact on downtown Fresno,” Dyer warned.

Arias criticized District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp for staying ‘silent’ about the program.

In its response, the county clarified that the program is funded by the state, not the county. County officials say neither Dyer nor any other members of the council contacted the county with their concerns prior to the news conference.

“The goal of the pilot program is to reduce the harm caused by intravenous drug use including blood-borne illnesses (Hepatitis B and C, soft tissue infections, and HIV/AIDS), which is under the auspices of the Public Health Department. The program will lift the strain experienced at local hospitals and clinics that are already over capacity,” according to the county

“Contrary to Councilmember Bredefeld’s statements, the state program does NOT distribute any drugs to persons served.”

The exchange will operate two hours a week on Saturdays, officials added.

Arias and Bredefeld are both challenging incumbents for the board supervisors in 2024. Unsurprisingly, tension between Fresno city and county leaders has been growing.

Three weeks ago, Arias threatened legal action to stop the county’s effort to return elections for sheriff and district attorney to the gubernatorial cycle. The county is suing Fresno city council members Garry Bredefeld and Luis Chavez for allegedly violating a 2020 campaign finance law prohibiting contributions over $30,000. Bredefeld and county supervisors also pointed fingers at one another following the recent discovery of an illegal laboratory in Reedley.