The opioid crisis in America is real, and affects many Orange County residents. The rate of opioid-related emergency department visits in Orange County has increased 141% since 2005, and there were 7,457 opioid overdose/abuse cases treated in the emergency department between 2011 and 2015.

Due to the severe addiction crisis facing our neighbors, family, and friends, the Orange County Young Democrats has consistently supported the Orange County Needle Exchange Program (OCNEP) and its role in maintaining public health for all residents of Orange County. OCNEP provides access to clean syringes, disposal of used syringes, on-site HIV and Hepatitis C testing, and other important public health services.

Earlier this year, OCYD was disheartened to learn that the City of Santa Ana had chosen to discontinue its partnership with OCNEP. In response, OCNEP filed for a mobile permit with the state department of public health. Recently, that permit was approved, and operations were slated to begin in the cities of Costa Mesa, Santa Ana, Anaheim, and Orange.

We understand that there are certain concerns with the newly-approved program, including the location of the mobile facilities. We also understand that OCNEP has made it clear that they are willing to delay the program until September to have time to coordinate with local officials on how to best implement the needle exchange program. In light of this, we were surprised and disappointed to hear that county and city officials sued the state to stop this important public health program from being implemented.

While accountability concerns over the operational nature of needle exchange programs, such as concerns regarding discarded needles in public spaces, are valid concerns, the answer is not to end a program that has been shown to sustainably decrease the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.

OCYD calls upon the Board of Supervisors, the cities of Orange County, and especially our Democratic city council members, to work together with OCNEP to find a solution that addresses community concerns and shares the responsibility for providing a much needed public health service across the county.