Community Safety and Compassion Forum covers topic of needles and drug use
Concerned members of the community nearly filled Santa Cruz High School’s theater on Wednesday, April 10 for the first in a series of “Santa Cruz Forums on Safety and Compassion” co-sponsored by local nonprofits, churches, and social service providers.
“One of the things that I love the most about living in a democratic society is our opportunity for discourse,” said Rev. Deborah L. Johnson, who moderated the event. “I truly believe that the more minds that come together, and the more opinions that we hear, the more likely we are to come up with very fine solutions.”
The event, titled “Drugs, Public Health, and Needle Exchange,” featured a varied panel that included two recovering drug addicts. The speakers provided their knowledge and insight into the realities of syringe exchange programs and drug addiction, in light of the burgeoning public outcry against used syringe needles showing up in parks and on beaches.
For 24 years, the Street Outreach Supporters (SOS) operated a syringe exchange program out of a van in a Laundromat parking lot on Ocean Street, but in January of this year, the city council decided to shut down the location and move all needle exchanges to the county health facility on Emile Avenue.
Director of the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency and presenter Giang Nguyen stated that after the SOS syringe exchange program moved from its long-time location, there has been a 38 percent reduction in participation in the program.
Professor Alex Kral, director of the Urban Health Program in San Francisco, provided his research findings concerning syringe exchange programs in California and the United States at large.
“We compared the City of San Francisco, which has a huge needle exchange program, where are over three million needles are handed out every year, to the city of Miami, Florida, which has never had a needle exchange program whatsoever,” Kral Said.
Kral’s survey found that 13 percent of needles in San Francisco were disposed of improperly, and in Miami, 95 percent of the needles were disposed of improperly, including 45 percent in public spaces.
Professor of sociology and legal studies at UC Santa Cruz Craig Reinarman, who has published a number of articles on drug abuse, and served as a consultant to the World Health Organization’s Program on Substance Abuse presented his educated opinions at the forum.
“To claim that tolerance and needle exchange and homeless services cause drug addiction and crime is like claiming that the movement of a barometer causes the storm,” Reinarman said. “It doesn’t work that way.”
Zack Wise and Marcus Kelly-Cobos, recovering intravenous drug users and current Cabrillo College students, also spoke at the forum. Kelly-Cobos, who has been clean for more than a year thanks to the assistance of nonprofit recovery center Janus of Santa Cruz, reminded the audience that it is never too late to turn one’s life around.
“For those of you out there who want to give up hope on the homeless, the addicts, and the people you see as undesirable in our community,” Kelly-Cobos said, “Janus was my 21st program.”
The next “Santa Cruz Forum on Safety and Compassion” will focus on “Homelessness and our Hometown” and takes place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 24 at the Santa Cruz High School Theater.
Photo by Daniela Ruiz/City on a Hill Press.