Is this harm reduction or harm creation?
June 6, 2023 - On Friday afternoon, three members of the Santa Monica Coalition and one journalist observed Los Angeles County-contracted workers hand out hypodermic needles, synthetic meth, and other alleged health aids to whoever was in the public park, including offering the kits to non-drug users who happened to be sitting in Reed Park.
The Santa Monica Coalition, a group of local business owners and leaders who are concerned about humanitarian, public safety, and crime issues, decided on Friday to follow the Venice Family Clinic van to each of the locations in Santa Monica at which they were distributing clean needles to drug users, mostly the homeless, in a public health effort to prevent the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C. They witnessed a number of violations of stated LA County Health Department policy, including no referrals to drug rehabilitation or housing services and no effort to reclaim used needles. In addition, county-contracted workers from VFC walked into the park with needle and drug kits, in violation of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer's decision to distribute the drug kits from the vans rather than distribute them openly in parks.
John Alle of the Santa Monica Coalition said they saw no identifying information on the persons distributing the needle and drug kits. There were no doctors or pharmacists. Contact between the distributors and the drug users was minimal and did not include questions that could have determined an individual's health or housing status or referrals to social and medical services.
No other supplies were distributed, such as blankets or clothing. Just two clean needles, synthetic meth, condoms, handiwipes, and Narcan to treat an accidental overdose.
According to a bulletin issued by the County Public Health Department in May, 2022, certification to distribute harm reduction services requires at a minimum that Syringe Service Program workers provide "HIV and viral hepatitis prevention education services" and "safe recovery and disposal of used syringes and sharps waste." According to SM Coalition witnesses, neither of these was provided. Required core services are to include "Direct provision or referrals to:
a. Substance use disorder treatment services;
b. MAT(Medication for Addiction Treatment) services;
c. Screening for HIV, hepatitis C virus (HCV), STI, and STD;
d. HIV and HCV care and treatment;
e. Hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccination;
f. Mental health and/or other medical services; and
g. Housing services."
None of these were being offered to the homeless drug addicted. Neither were they being offered "a procedure for sharps disposal, which includes personal sharps containers" as set out as a minimum by the county's health department.
Instead, needles and drugs were offered to people who were not drug users. Alle says he was sitting against a tree watching a VFC worker leave the van to walk through Reed Park, "actively offering and handing out the packages. I was offered a package, but the VFC employee walked away quickly when he realized he was being recorded."
The van parked illegally on California Avenue in a red zone. After the van drove to Ocean Avenue near the Shore Hotel, it also parked illegally, blocking a bicycle lane. After a scooter and a bicyclist nearly collided as they swerved into traffic to avoid the van, a Santa Monica police officer forced the van to move. According to Alle, the van left behind a co-worker who was still in Palisades Park handing out needle and syringe packages to whoever was on the ground with a sleeping bag or backpack.