Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

LA Department of Public Health to Santa Monica residents: We Don't Care About YOUR Health

This needle program is, at best, doing nothing more than creating HIV-free corpses

Open letter to the Santa Monica City Council and the City Manager

Much has been made about the needle exchange program conducted by the Los Angeles Department of Public Health in our city streets and parks. So I cleared my Friday morning to spend two hours listening to their abysmal defense of the program, which is really a needle distribution program, because, as even the mad doctor Gary Tsai acknowledged, only 60% of needles gets returned. (How he arrived at that figure nobody knows because there's no data on any of it).[Editor's note: John Alle, who also attended the meeting believes that they acknowledged only 40% get returned.]

Well, that was two hours of my life I'll never get back! I was dismayed by the arrogance, lack of curiosity, and mediocrity of that group, which included Barbara Ferrer and various toadies. In this scripted Kabuki dance they weren't open to anything, as Ferrer herself said at the end when she abruptly declared they were going to continue the program no matter what Santa Monica wanted. So basically: FU, I don't care what you want, it doesn't matter what you say, what your experience is, how big a failure the program is in stopping overdoses-nothing. I guess it was a "listening" tour without any intent of actually hearing. Here's what I heard:

* When asked if they had any doubts about any of their efforts, including the needle distribution, to deal with the hockey stick of 3239 drug overdoses in 2022, (up from 2442 the year before in LA County alone), Ferrer said no, quoting nebulous "modeling" showing its effectiveness. No real data, so the madness of expecting different results from the same actions is firmly entrenched.

* When asked if there was any concern about sending the wrong message, from government, to the transient addicts who end up in our parks that drug use is okay here, they all shrugged. Same for concerns that we are enabling addiction and death, indeed delivering the mechanism by handing out needles. Gift cards for diabetics to the candy store was the way one questioner perfectly put it.

* When asked if they would at least run the experiment of pausing it to see what would happen, they said no. So zero intellectual curiosity. I work in the tech industry where A/B testing of every hypothesis is standard protocol, so this was pretty stunning.

* When asked if they were concerned about the crime, attacks, and the deterioration of our parks, they went back to their "harm reduction" talking points. One woman repeatedly accused questioners of conflating homelessness with drug addiction, and then, of course, saying (surprise!) all we need is more housing. As if the majority of homeless people weren't addicts or severely mentally ill (that's actual data from California Healthline showing that a staggering 82% of the homeless said they had experienced addiction or mental illness during their lifetimes). These are people who can't pull up their pants, never mind maintain an apartment or get a job. She also, of course, brought in "equity" issues. I was muted, but I wanted to tell her that of the two people who attacked me, one was white and one was black. I care not at all about their race, but mightily about their behavior of trying to remove my head from my body, one with a pipe.

* When asked for proof and data that any of this was working anywhere, Barbara Ferrer again mumbled something vague about the "modeling," and pointed out how this was the policy in places like Vancouver. That Vancouver has seen an epidemic of overdose deaths in the past five years, the same hockey stick, up and to the right as LA County, with no end in sight, doesn't seem to concern her.

* When asked about taking the program inside, they said they would like to set up "safe injection sites" but get resistance from communities. Has she ever been to one? I have in Vancouver (fyi, I'm married to a Canadian). For what it looks like, google it, or check out Hastings Street here. No thanks.

* I didn't get to ask if any of THEM lived near a park with the needle exchange. When Tsai was asked previously, he wasn't sure. Ha! What a bad lie from the person leading the entire program for LA County.

What I didn't hear was any mention of enforcement except to say that criminalizing addiction doesn't work. But nobody had mentioned criminalizing addiction. What I mentioned was arresting people for their criminal actions when they are high is a way to STOP them. It worked for the person who assaulted me with a deadly weapon last year. He was locked up because he had several other assaults and the judge wasn't having it. Waiting for court dates in prison, he had to get sober and I'm sure it wasn't fun. But I saw the difference in him between crazed on the street attacking me and the wan 40 year-old in court. I hope he takes advantage of this "adult time out" to reassess his choices. His parole officer said he was released 8 months later into an outpatient clinic in Long Beach, so I'm hopeful. She also opined that she thought 8 months was a long time to spend in prison and I said I guess that depends on whether you're the victim or not. She was surprised when I offered to hear him out if he ever gets to the step of making amends.

The bottom line is harm reduction depends on people being in their right mind enough to make a good decision. The crazed people lurching around my neighborhood can't decide anything except how to get their next fix; you might as well ask somebody with a broken leg to climb stairs. This needle program is, at best, doing nothing more than creating HIV-free corpses because the drugs are too strong for people to be given needles for years with ZERO interaction. They will die before they get well, and that's not compassion.

Finally, what was made very clear is it doesn't matter what Santa Monica, its residents, our council, or our city manager want. This is LA County's program. The message underneath it all is they absolutely don't care about our safety and health. We are on our own and we better start acting like it.

So what CAN WE DO as a city when we live in a larger ecosystem of bad decisions? We can make good ones. We should divest ourselves as much as possible from the idiocy, and not, like some council members want, suck up to it. We should consider joining The Santa Monica Coalition's lawsuit against the county. We should definitely hire more sworn officers to go after dealers and the "harmless" infraction of using hard drugs in public. Hire them even if we have to cut funds in other places. Do it now because our recovery depends on it. As do the lives of the addicts who need tough love and not enabling. The message has to be not "you're a Santa Monica" if you come here and live in our parks and alleys for six months, as Gleam Davis still believes. It should be we will not tolerate any criminality, including the public use of drugs in our parks, streets, and alleys. Zero tolerance. Zero enabling.

It seems like common sense to me, not letting people with no control take down our parks, but common sense is entirely missing from the arrogance of Ferrer et al. I'm not surprised these are the geniuses who put a chain link fence around the pull-up bars at the beach during Covid, preventing people from getting a healthy workout in the wind and sun. Stupid is as stupid does.


Reader Comments(1)

jrandall writes:

As a former opiate addict living on the streets, I can tell you firsthand that coddling people into their own self destruction is not sound policy. Academia may disagree, but my only salvation was due to the disruption of my habits, not the accommodation of them. We certainly wouldn't assist anorexic or suicidal people in their own self destruction, so why are we doing this to opiate addicts? The attachment to the needle itself is a huge hurdle to clear on the way to sobriety or even on the way to being a functioning addict receiving FDA approved maintenance opioids, which are effective and can be taken orally. The needle should be considered illegal paraphernalia, and we cannot continue to normalize and incentivize this destructive behavior.