Tonight’s OC Needle Exchange Town Hall Meeting: A Political Preview


Tonight, the Orange County Needle Exchange Program (OCNEP) will host its second town hall information session since the California Department for Public Health (CDPH) approved the OCNEP’s plan for a mobile needle exchange on August 6. If tonight’s town hall at the Delhi Center in Santa Ana is anything like the OCNEP’s public forum in Anaheim on August 23, this event will be a parade of OC politicians seeking to improve their chances of winning election this November.

The needle exchange has become a point of political contention because it gives local politicians a chance to publicly show their support for law and order by speaking out against the OCNEP–which they feel spreads immorality along with injection supplies, condoms, free HIV testing, and free doses of Naloxone–the opioid overdose reversal drug. The OC Board of Supervisors, along with the cities of Costa Mesa, Anaheim, and Orange have all filed an injunction against the OCNEP to prevent the volunteer organization from operating.

Read more about the politics behind the OCNEP’s Anaheim town hall here.

Read more about the benefits of a needle exchange here.

Santa Ana has not joined the OC Board of Supervisors’ lawsuit against the OCNEP, but is not necessarily in favor of the OCNEP either. If you recall, Santa Ana shut down the OCNEP by denying the non-profit’s application to operate at the Civic Center in January 2018.

Read more about the original OCNEP shutdown here.

Political opposition to the OCNEP tonight will likely revolve around the Santa Ana Police Department (SAPD), and the candidates they support.

In the 2016 election, the Santa Ana police union backed spent $400 thousand–more than all other campaign contributors combined. The four council people who received a maxed out contribution from the Police Union went on to support a $2.7 million raise for Santa Ana Police Officers, even while the city predicted major budget shortfalls. Those council people were Jose Solorio, Juan Villegas, Vicente Sarmiento, and Sal Tinajero. The Voice of OC also predicted in February that the Santa Ana Police Union would be the largest political fundraiser in Santa Ana’s November 2018 elections. As of February, the Santa Ana Police Union held 76 percent of all Santa Ana campaign money.

Santa Ana’s Chief of Police sent a letter to the CDPH opposing the OCNEP on June 8, 2018. The SAPD asserts that they have little confidence that the OCNEP will protect its citizens by properly cleaning up discarded needles.

“OCNEP’s latest desire to operate a mobile needle exchange only heightens the City’s health and safety concerns for the Santa Ana community,” the letter states. “The City desires to contribute to solving the public health concerns to prevent the spread of infectious diseases; however, OCNEP has failed to provide a concrete plan to defensibly mitigate the quality of life concerns and the significant impact on public safety and public health itself due to the adverse impact. OCNEP’s past failure . . . erodes the plan’s intended public health benefit, and instead poses health and safety risks to even more people.”

With the largest political donor in Santa Ana firmly against the OCNEP, it’s only a matter of time before local politicians join the cause. Banding against the OCNEP may help members of the Santa Ana City Council keep their jobs, but it won’t prevent the rising rates of opioid overdoses and drug-related infectious diseases in OC.

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