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Supervisor Nathan Fletcher Presents Policy for Syringe Services Programs at County


Supervisor Nathan Fletcher wants to update the County of San Diego’s 23-year-old policy that prevents clean needle exchange programs from being established in San Diego County. 

Today the Supervisor joined with Family Health Centers of San Diego and community leaders to announce his policy recommendation for the County to develop a Comprehensive Harm Reduction Strategy, to include Syringe Services Programs. The Board of Supervisors will vote on the policy at the Tues., March 10 meeting. 

“The evidence is clear, Syringe Services Programs are a medically supported best practice that protects public health, saves lives, and puts people with substance use disorders on a path to recovery,” said Supervisor Fletcher. “Clean needle exchange programs are perceived as controversial, but that is due to a lack of awareness and understanding about the important role they have in reducing the transmission of viral hepatitis, HIV and other infectious diseases.”  

The current County policy from 1997 does not best position County health experts to most effectively protect the public health and safety of residents. It prohibits the establishment of needle exchange programs on the basis that they facilitate the injection of illegal substances, and urges state and city officials to oppose such programs. However, Federal and State of California laws explicitly approve of, encourage local municipalities, and provide funding to implement Syringe Services Programs when data warrants the intervention.  

“Syringe Services Programs are a medically proven strategy that work to prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C infections. Family Health Centers of San Diego uses these opportunities to connect and build trust with high-risk individuals, connecting them to medical and mental health services,” said Fran Butler-Cohen, CEO, Family Health Centers of San Diego. “We applaud Supervisor Fletcher’s desire to align the County health department with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s position and more than 30 years of academic research that demonstrates the effectiveness of Syringe Services Programs.”

In the nearly two decades that Family Health Centers of San Diego has been administering Syringe Services Programs, there has been a net reduction of more than 500,000 used syringes off our streets thanks to the availability of clean needles and safe disposal sites.

The Policy Recommendation

Supervisor Fletcher wants to empower the County’s public health experts. His policy, if approved by the Board,  will direct the County’s Chief Administrative Officer to develop the strategy, engage a third-party subject matter expert to review local data, establish best practices and involve local advisory boards and coalitions to implement a Harm Reduction Strategy, including Syringe Services Programs. Additionally, the County will be able to pursue state and federal funding.   

No Syringe Services Program. No Funding. 

In the time that our County has been rejecting Syringe Services Programs, we have passed up millions of dollars in state funding -- up to $90,000 per year for decades. 

Most recently, the County missed out on a $15.2 million budget allocation establishing the California Harm Reduction initiative for Syringe Services and technical assistance. 

Annually, County funding for HIV prevention has been reduced by the California Department of Public Health because we do not have a clean syringe exchange program in our prevention strategy.    

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