Pubdate: Tue, 23 Feb 2016
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Los Angeles Times
Author: Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil, writes for Times Community News.
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


The Volunteer- Run Nonprofit, Started by Uci Medical Students, Aims 
to Lower Addicts' Exposure to Infections.

A year ago, a group of UC Irvine medical students realized that 
Orange County was missing what they considered an important public 
health service that every major city in California had access to: a 
clean- needle exchange program.

So they decided to do something about it.

The students organized with partners across the region and submitted 
a plan to the California Department of Public Health. The agency 
rejected the plan last summer, noting a lack of community support and 
funding for a program.

Undeterred, the group revised the plan, finding a more acceptable 
location and raising money to support the venture. And last week, 
their work paid off: They won state approval to open Orange County's 
first needle exchange.

The thinking behind such programs is that if drug use can't be 
halted, at least substituting clean needles for dirty ones means that 
users face less exposure to diseases and infections.

The Orange County Needle Exchange Program opened last week at the 
Santa Ana Civic Center in a mobile site behind City Hall.

"I'm from San Francisco, where needle exchanges are very common and 
widely acknowledged to be an important factor in stemming the HIV 
epidemic," said Kyle Barbour, a founding member of the O. C. exchange 
and a second-year medical student. "So I was shocked to find that 
Orange County didn't have one. We know that needle exchanges are 
safe, cheap and effective."

The original plan to house the exchange at an LGBT center in Santa 
Ana was met with resistance by police and residents.

"We thought from a public safety standpoint that the first location 
was problematic," said Santa Ana Police Chief Carlos Rojas. "It was 
in a neighborhood with schools and a house of worship and looked like 
it would have led to more calls for service."

So the group worked with the Police Department and other community 
groups to find a location everyone could agree on. The Santa Ana 
Civic Center, Rojas said, made the most sense.

"It's away from residential areas," he said. "We have a large 
homeless population there and a high concentration of IV drug users, 
so we saw this area as being more beneficial not only for the people 
who will be using the service, but also from a public safety aspect."

The organizers then raised $ 100,000 - enough to keep the exchange 
running for several years, they estimate - from groups including the 
California Medical Assn. Foundation and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.

Barbour said one of the biggest obstacles to the exchange has been fear.

"There's been 40 years of research on needle exchanges, and not a 
single scientific study has demonstrated that there's any harm either 
for public safety or public health," he said. "But despite that, 
there's a lot of fear of needle exchanges and injection drug users."

The exchange provides up to 20 more needles than the number turned in 
by a person, as well as safe-injection supplies such as cookers, 
tourniquets and cotton; condoms and lubricant; and a list of 
community resources for services such as housing and healthcare. The 
exchange is also working with community partners to provide on-site 
HIV and pregnancy testing.

The exchange, a volunteer-run nonprofit, now boasts a long list of 
community supporters, including the Orange County Medical Assn., the 
AIDS Service Foundation of Orange County and the LGBT Center OC.

Barbour hopes the program's opening signals a broader change.

"We feel the approval of the Orange County Needle Exchange Program 
epitomizes Orange County gradually coming into the modern era," he 
said, "so that whether you're poor, stigmatized, minority or 
majority, you have access to the basic healthcare services that 
everyone deserves."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom