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County Exploring a Removal of Ban on Syringe Service Programs

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San Diego County has prohibited the implementation of needle exchange programs since 1997, due to policy that states they facilitate the injection of illegal substances. However, Supervisor Nathan Fletcher is hoping the city will accept his amended policy recommendations that a new Comprehensive Reduction Strategy is developed to include a Syringe Service Program (SSP).

Despite a mixed public opinion on needle exchange programs, the Centers for Disease Control points to evidence that communities can benefit. “The evidence is clear, syringe service programs are a medically supported best practice that protects public health, saves lives, and puts people with substance use disorders on a path to recovery,” said Fletcher. “Clean needle exchange programs are perceived as controversial, but that is due to lack of awareness and understanding about the important role they have in reducing the transmission of viral hepatitis, HIV and other infectious diseases.”

Health advocates spoke during a conference giving firsthand knowledge on the benefits of a needle exchange program. Needle exchanges can have a positive effect on limiting the spread of infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis, the latter of which has caused several outbreaks within the homeless community in San Diego.

The only SSP in the area operates through the City of San Diego and is run by Family Health Center of San Diego. However, with a widespread rollout of similar programs, areas like El Cajon, Lakeside, Chula Vista, Vista, and Escondido could see valuable benefits.

The Board of Supervisors will vote on the proposal on March 10 to see if the initiative has support. If passed, the Board will direct the County’s Chief Administrative Officer to develop the strategy, review data using a third-party, and establish best practices. According to Fletcher, a program like this would be eligible for state funding up to $90,000 per year.

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