Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Rally Opposing Needle Distribution at Santa Monica Parks Draws Multiple News Outlets

Speakers divided on the issue of "harm reduction"

Alyssa Erdley

Every attendee at the rally was happy to hold signs opposing the enabling of drug use in public parks

April 17, 2024 - Differing views were expressed by speakers at a hastily convened rally opposing the free needle distribution program at Reed Park yesterday, but everyone agreed on one thing: needles do not belong in public parks.

Approximately 70 people attended the rally Tuesday morning, including Channel 7 News and several other public and private news outlets. The small attendance belies the true opposition to the county program. 22,000 signatures have been collected opposing the distribution of needles for drug use in the parks. The entire population of Santa Monica is roughly 90,000, and that includes non-voting minors.

Four members of the city council spoke at the rally: Mayor Phil Brock, Mayor Pro Tem Lana Negrete, Oscar de la Torre, and Christine Parra. All four voted yes on a resolution to move the needle distribution program out of Santa Monica public spaces. Also speaking were one-time Los Angeles County Supervisor candidate Roxanne Hoge, nearby resident and self-described "gadfly" on the issue Arthur Jeon, and co-founder of the Santa Monica Coalition, Jessica Rogers.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health quietly began handing out free needles to drug addicts in area parks and other public - and private - places beginning at an unknown date. John Alle, another SM Coalition founder, said he discovered the program in 2022 when walking in Reed Park with a reporter. Lana Negrete says she discovered the program when a man handed her a needle he found on the ground, thinking it might belong to her diabetic daughter. Accusations have been made that former Santa Monica Mayor Sue Himmelrich knew about the program all along.

Whether or not that's true, no action by the city would have stopped the needle distribution since the county health department's policies supersede any local action Santa Monica legislators might attempt. A scan of the LADPH website shows the agency emphasizes what it calls harm reduction over attempting to wean addicts off of illegal and harmful substances. (See

Divided among the speakers at the rally was the subject of the effectiveness of harm reduction. While some speakers took care to avoid condemning harm reduction, others were firmly opposed to enabling drug users to continue their destructive habit and thought giving out needles, outdoors or indoors, an insanity.

Alyssa Erdley

Santa Monica City Council members Oscar de la Torre, Lana Negrete, and Mayor Phil Brock

Phil Brock, in the camp of moving, but not stopping harm reduction, told attendees, "We've all said that we want to reduce the episodes of hepatitis and reduce the episodes of AIDS. That's a worthy consideration." Brock added, "But that can be done inside a facility where people also are taught they they get a discussion at least started about getting clean about not killing themselves."

Christine Parra followed Brock's example, saying, "We are not here... to say that harm reduction doesn't work or is absolutely wrong. What we are here to do is to protect our community, protect our parks, and protect our children." In other words, move the program out of the parks and public places..

Lana Negrete, on the other hand, said that distributing needles, even for this purpose, is a terrible idea, citing her experience with family members who became drug addicts. If a parent found their child using drugs in their bedroom, Lana posited that they wouldn't say, "'Honey, let me bring you a clean needle.' We wouldn't do that. We would get them the help that they need." She added, "We do not have a hepatitis epidemic. We have an opioid epidemic."

Oscar de la Torre also questioned the tradeoffs of the harm reduction program. He said that the health department's own Dr. Tsai admitted that overdose deaths had "just skyrocketed." From around 250 such deaths county-wide in 2017, the number jumped to top 3,000 overdose deaths in 2022. But de la Torre equivocated later in his remarks, saying, "We're not saying that a program of, you know, a needle exchange program done within a clinic where people need to go to get services and maybe there's a counselor there; maybe there's other support services for people - we're not saying that that's wrong."

Alyssa Erdley

This attendee correctly interpreted the source of the needles as Barbara Ferrer

The obstacle to moving the needle program to a place where addicts can actually receive drug counseling and real help is the LADPH, headed by Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, Director of Public Health. Ferrer lost a great deal of credibility during the Covid pandemic by misusing data to create false statistics, mostly in relation to vaccine effectiveness and number of Covid deaths. (search this site for multiple articles revealing Ferrer's inaccuracies, including Ferrer works at the will of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, a majority of whom support harm reduction.


Reader Comments(0)