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Editorial: Needle exchange program would bring San Diego County into 21st century

12/17/19

See the full editorial by the U-T Editorial Board in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

"Last week, San Diego County supervisors unanimously approved a plan to use nearly $2 million in state funding over the next five years to help public health officials deal with the sharp increase in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and hepatitis C cases among county residents. Of particular concern is the spread of congenital syphilis, which is linked to more than 100 stillborn babies in California since 2012. Four additional disease investigators will be added to speed up probes of infection outbreaks.

This is an enterprising way to address a growing problem — and a reminder of how badly county leaders botched a response to the 2017 hepatitis A outbreak that led to 20 deaths. If the county wants to keep improving both public health and its reputation, it should heed Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and start clean syringe exchange and condom distribution programs to limit the spread of diseases.

Last century, detractors opposed providing intravenous drug users with clean syringes because of fears it would increase addiction and that sites providing syringes would attract crime. But by the late 1990s, public health authorities had debunked these fears, prompting the passage in 1999 of a California law legalizing needle exchange programs. The city of San Diego launched a program in 2002. San Diego County should launch one of its own. It’s better to be proactive, as the county now knows all too well."