Last night, the Anaheim City Council voted to make permanent a one-year moratorium on needle exchange programs in the city.  The vote was 5-2, with Mayor Harry Sidhu, Mayor Pro Tem Lucille Kring, and Councilmembers Steve Faessel, Trevor O’Neil and Denise Barnes voting for the ban. Councilmembers Jordan Brandman and Jose F. Moreno supported authorizing regulated needle exchange programs after the temporary moratorium expires next month.

In July 2018, the state authorized the Orange County Needle Exchange Program (OCNEP) to start a mobile needle exchange in Anaheim (as well as in Orange, Costa Mesa and Santa Ana).  The next month, the Anaheim City Council approved a 45-day moratorium and obtained a preliminary injunction to stop OCNEP’s plans. The council later extended through August 29, 2019, and in later voted to extended it for another year, until August 28, 2020.

“I think Anaheim does not want to be a magnet for people seeking syringe or needle exchange programs. It’s 100 percent clear to me that our residents oppose it,” said Mayor Harry Sidhu. “We do not want to be the only city in Orange County with these programs.”

Moreno criticized the permanent ban as “acting like ostriches” and “putting our heads in the sand.” The District 3 councilman’s reiterated the reasoning he expressed in a Zoom town hall the evening before: drug addicts are “going to do it anyway” and claimed needle exchange programs would prevent addicts from infection due stemming from sharing and re-using syringes, and address the issue of used needles being left in parks and other haunts where addicts shoot up. Moreno also claimed giving drug addicts clean needles would “put them on the path to recovery.”

Councilman O’Neil countered that notwithstanding the good intentions of needle exchange programs, they do not live up to their promise of eliminating or reducing the discarding of used syringes.

“San Francisco, for instance, has seven active needle exchange programs, and there are millions of these needles given out that are not returned and unaccounted for, and city crews collect hundreds of thousands of them on an annual basis,” O’Neil pointed out.

Moreno’s reasoning and arguments are flawed. Needle exchange programs do not help drug addicts to stop their self-destructive behavior – behavior that also fuels criminal activity. They may reduce the possibility of addicts contracting Hepatitis C, but at the end of the day, these programs simply enable more hygienic drug use.