Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

The Catastrophic Unintended Consequences of the Needle Exchange Program in Santa Monica Parks are Denied by Health Department Officials at Santa Monica Parks and Recreation Division Meeting

Ask yourself why is this so vehemently opposed by the most liberal city in the most liberal state in the country?

Editor's note: We received the following letter sent to Los Angeles County's top Department of Public Health officials from a Santa Monica resident:

To Dr. Tsai and Dr. Ferrer,

I've lived within two blocks of Reed Park for 25 years and lived firsthand the destruction of our commons under all sorts of "harm reduction," and decriminalization social experiments. I just caught Dr. Tsai's presentation to the Santa Monica Recreation and Parks Commission and your answers to their excellent questions, including ones about unintended consequences. I've got too many of those to name at the hands of addicts attracted to Reed Park, including being attacked twice, burglarized, spit on, watching my dogs get kicked, and seen my wife refuse to go out at night without me. Our lives are greatly circumscribed by the scourge of addiction and mental illness, often indistinguishable from each other.

I want to highlight a few things you said for people who weren't there (yes, I had the entire peanut gallery to myself!):

* You said only 60% of the needles handed out were actual exchanges, which means 40% of the used needles end up where? You had no idea. I do; I've seen them in storm drains, garbage cans, in the gutter, on the lawns, and once, in my front yard. So I'm glad to see you acknowledge the exchange part of your "needle exchange" is purely aspirational.

* You said you weren't aware of a needle exchange program in a park near where you live, but that doesn't mean there isn't one in your town. Wow, that's amazing! The person who's career has been to foist this experiment on Santa Monica, has no idea if you have any in your own town. I have a feeling you won't ever have one at your local park. Trust me, it's not something you would enjoy.

* You mentioned you have a toddler. Congratulations! I assure you, if you lived where I live, you would NOT be bringing your toddler to roll on the grass at Reed Park because it's inundated with addicts nodding off or acting out (see pic below). The grass smells like urine and you would have a good chance finding one of your very own missing needles.

* You were asked if the needle exchange attracted addicts. Your answer was convoluted, but I'm going to steel man this for you: even if it only attracts 10% of the addicts in Reed Park, that's 10% more than our police, residents, and emergency services should have to deal with. As a city we are spending tremendous resources on enforcement to get rid of the dealers out of the parks. We also need to get rid of the attractive nuisance that your program constitutes.

* At one point you rather arrogantly said that the program has been reduced in Santa Monica to an hour a week (there's no way we can verify that, btw), and, you asked, since you've reduced the hours has the number of addicts decreased, increased, or stayed the same? You were implying that we were blaming the entire crisis in our parks on the needle exchange. That's not what anybody is saying. I think the solution right now is mostly one of enforcement (arrest the dealers and the transient addicts will go elsewhere. But I have a feeling your program is a total failure at harm reduction because you said it has been going on since 2008 and the situation has only gotten worse. Oh, and you can't point to any data saying otherwise.

* At one point you insisted that harm reduction works, but that assumption is being challenged from New York to San Francisco, especially those without any counseling or other services. This model might have worked when the drug was heroin. Now, with Fentanyl, there isn't time to reduce harm. The transients drift into town (and they are ALL from somewhere else), and within months they are sore-infested, lurching humans, with no light in their eyes. A few months later they barely recognizable, and a few months after that they are often dead. In the meantime they have robbed, stolen and defecated their way around our parks, alleys, carports and doorways, making them unusable.

* So maybe you should look in the mirror and ask yourself why is this so vehemently opposed by the most liberal city in the most liberal state in the country? Why do you think 17,000 residents signed a petition to have it removed and you are now being sued? I have heard directly from residents, most of the council, our police chief, the incredibly patient and restrained Parks Board, and our city manager that they are ALL dead set against this program, and yet you insist on shoving it down our throats. A program with no data showing results, no supportive services beyond handing out needles, and a de facto enabling of addict's uncontrollable impulses.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Given the rate of overdose deaths, the absolute lethality of Fentanyl, the dealers in my neighborhood are playing a murderous game of Russian Roulette every time they deal. In some universe they might be convicted of attempting murder for those acts like in cases around the country. In LA county, Gascon will release them. Regardless, stopping them is most certainly a matter of life and death for the suffering addicts. And giving the addicts needles without any services is supplying the delivery system enabling their demise, while also sending the message that what they are doing is okay: treading water in human misery.

In contrast, This program, in North Philly, seems like a better way to connect to addicts that is truly lifesaving, and says we care. They are going door-to-door to give out Narcan. If you really want to do harm reduction without the side effects of enabling addiction, you could make sure the addicts have narcan. With a carefully thought out program led by trained professionals, a conversation could be started with the afflicted: We see you. We care for you. We don't want you to do drugs, but we also don't want you to die, SO WE'RE NOT GOING TO GIVE YOU THE BULLET FOR YOUR GUN. We are going to give you Narcan and we are going to start real outreach that doesn't just keep you in the same place until you need it.

Dr. Tsai, I'm more than happy to show you the effects of addiction on our neighborhood, and hear firsthand how your program has done anything for the addicts, or the residents suffering with them. As commissioner Bowman said, the desires of the many need to be balanced against the desperation of the few. The commons belong to the greater community and we've had enough. Let me put it this way, these people are drowning, and in their desperation they are literally taking down the town with them. They are not just "homeless." They are ill, and they can't help it. As a society, it's our job to say enough, we're going to save you, and pull you out of the water. Not trickle more of it on your face.

Contact me any time.

Arthur Jeon


Reader Comments(1)

Bobbie writes:

This is NOT unintentional. David White and ALL current councilmembers are actively refusing to enforce laws and draw people in from the whole of LA County under the umbrella of equity. David White and ALL councilmembers want to share our beach community with the drug addicted, jobless, mentally ill, criminal population. They were able to achieve this through the State's illegal declaration of emergency. That permitted emptying the jails onto our streets, lifting all regulations on RV and other illegal parking, refusing to enforce any laws, and jailing law-abiding people in their house for their purported safety. So while law-abiding citizens and innocent children were locked up and deprived of education, the jails were emptied onto our streets. LA County/Ferrer saw the opportunity to transfer the homeless population into scenic beach cities. Some of the beach cities did not accept it (south bay/orange county and recently malibu) - but Santa Monica bought into it wholehog. For equity