Santa Monica mayor says it’s time to end L.A. County needle exchange program at park

Santa Monica City officials and residents are calling for an end to the Los Angeles County Department of Health’s weekly needle exchange program at Reed Park.

In an open letter sent to county officials last week, Santa Monica Mayor Sue Himmelrich called for the program to be moved from public spaces around the city and preferably to an indoor area.

She outlined Santa Monica’s four-pillar strategy, which aims to “tackle homelessness and prevent residents from becoming homeless.” One of those pillars is maintaining access to the city’s open spaces, something Himmelrich’s letter states that the syringe exchange program is hampered each week.

“We recognize our limited regulatory authority,” the letter reads, “but rather than implement this program in our parks and open spaces, we ask for your support to move this program to a service-rich environment (preferably indoors) immediately, where people are in need of substance abuse, mental health and other services can coordinate and work directly with service providers.”

Himmelrich’s letter said Santa Monica officials have requested a formal proposal outlining new restrictions on the time, location and type of needle exchange program within the city.

Currently, the county Department of Health, in conjunction with the Venice Family Clinic, organizes weekly, three-hour visits to the park to distribute clean needles and doses of Narcan as part of the county’s Health Syringe Health Program.

Brian Hurley, the medical director for substance abuse prevention and control at the county health department, said the department was aware of the community’s concerns before receiving the letter.

“From our perspective, the community is concerned, while I can understand them, I would also like to emphasize that it is not as if the county Department of Health intends to overwhelm the park with an overwhelming number of services,” Hurley said. “We’re talking about something that’s three hours a week.”

Hurley said negotiations are underway with Santa Monica county and city officials to move the program, and ideas include moving the weekly church services to an indoor area or using a van to accommodate people outside of the able to sit within sight. But those ideas present their own challenges, Hurley said.

Hurley says keeping the program easily accessible is paramount, and it’s an extra step to consider when discussing a move. The program will continue to operate from Reed Park until a resolution is found.

“We see this as an opportunity to expand, not limit, access to overdose prevention,” Hurley said. “If that means adjusting some of the locations or the way we deliver, then we can do that. But we have to make sure we’re focused on the point of these services… We can’t try to take a service away because we have concerns about its visibility.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-09-20/needle-exchange-program-santa-monica-los-angeles-county Santa Monica mayor says it’s time to end L.A. County needle exchange program at park

Alley Einstein

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