Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County Public Health Director, Defends Needle Distribution Program While Unable to Show it is Successful or Safe (Not to Mention "Healthy")
County began handing out needles in 2019 but has zero evidence this has saved any lives or improved public health (ya think?)
June 5, 2023
May 28, 2023 - At a meeting with member of the Santa Monica Coalition, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer defended her program to distribute needles to drug addicts in public places in Santa Monica even as she was unable to answer questions about the program's effectiveness or safety.
The Santa Monica Coalition is a group of local business owners and leaders who are concerned about the humanitarian, public safety, and crime issues present in the city. Armed with a list of over 30 questions about the open-air needle distribution program currently run by the county health department in various parks and other places in Santa Monica, they met this week with Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer, Gary Tsai MD, and Dr. Brian Hurley. Many of their questions were answered, but not in a way that paints the county health department as behaving in a particularly responsible manner toward Santa Monica visitors, residents, or the drug-addicted homeless.
According to Ferrer, the open-air needle distribution program began its operations in Reed Park in 2019. For the past three years, the program has given free needles to drug addicts in the park near St. Monica's School and adjacent to the children's park. However, neither at that time nor since has Ferrer or Tsai developed any "specific metrics for the success" of the program.
The county does not take the names of those receiving needles for drug use, nor do they provide referrals for drug or rehabilitation programs. No medical or mental health follow-ups are conducted with the needle recipient drug users.
Ferrer and the two medical doctors with her would not answer if they were conducting studies of ongoing HIV transmission rates. They could not confirm that county workers were collected the used needles so they would not be left on the ground at the parks.
The county health officials could not say how many needles had been distributed since the program's inception nor on a weekly basis. They would not discuss how the program was being funded.
Dr. Ferrer, PhD, did not acknowledge any potential connection between the beginning of the needle-distribution program and a rise in crime in the area. But she did state that drug use was very common in all parks in the county and implied that the public should simply accept that as a reality.
An average of 4 homeless die on the streets every month in Santa Monica, but neither Ferrer, Tsai, or Hurley made any connection between handing out needles to facilitate drug use and these mortalities.
Recently, under public pressure, Ferrer and her office altered the needle distribution program to operate from a van rather than outside in the parks. However, Dr. Tsai admitted during the meeting with the Santa Monica Coalition that the health department could not prevent or even know if their employees were leaving the van to walk into the park.
At the meeting, Ferrer remarked that the needle distribution program should be expanded into the offices of the public parks.