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Sunday, June 29, 2008

County Needle Exchange Program Makes Mess of Parks

Something a little different for everyone on a Sunday morning. Earlier this week there was a story in the Woodland Daily Democrat that a flood of hypodermic needles was showing up in Woodland City Parks.

A year ago, the County Board of Supervisors approved a needle-exchange program in an effort to cut down on diseases spread through the use of intravenous drug users.

However, now the Woodland City council is shocked and frustrated to find out that a county health contractor has been distributing these needles in one of the parks, without consulting the city.

This prompted strongly worded complaints from city officials to the county.

The Board of Supervisors voted by a 4-1 margin to support this program a year ago. The one dissenting voice was Matt Rexroad.

Mr. Rexroad is quoted in the Daily Democrat article:
One county official who does not support the program, however, is Matt Rexroad, the only supervisor to vote against the program when it came up before the board last August.

"I wish I could kill this program so badly, but I can't," Rexroad said.

Rexroad said beyond the health risk of having used needles in public places lies the greater question of the program's effectiveness.

"I keep hearing, if we do this it prevents disease and it will save us money," Rexroad said. "I don't know if I believe that in this case."

The program cost the county around $100,000 to implement - money, Rexroad said, that would be more effectively spent providing the county's impoverished children with health insurance.

"We're talking about $100,000 for a program, when the county is in an economic free-fall right now," Rexroad said. "In terms of bang for your buck, I would rather put $100,000 in the hands of children than the hands of IV drug users."
I find myself in an interesting position on this issue. I support the program in concept. I think these diseases are a severe public health threat in some areas and such exchange programs have been shown to be effective.

However, at the same time, I am appalled at the response of Cheryl Boney, who is the deputy director of public health programs for Yolo County.

When she was made aware of the problem, she pulled the plug on the park exchange:
Boney noted that when the city notified her of the problem, she immediately pulled the plug on the park exchange.

"We were made aware of the concern of doing it in the park," Boney said. "Once we were aware of it, we took care of it.
This is where I start having a problem, who told her to do a needle exchange in a Woodland City Park without informing the Woodland City Council? Could you imagine what would happen in Davis if they did that here without consulting the Davis City Council?

She continues:
The new program is a work-in-progress, Boney said, and Freeman Park was a learning example for the county.

"It's a new program and we're working out the details," Boney said.
Working out a few details? Details like informing the city and the police as to what you are doing? Like handing out needles in a park to begin with, which concentrates drug usage in an area where children and families are likely to frequent?

The article continues:
"[Woodland City Manager Mark] Deven reported in a City Council weekly newsletter Friday that the county agreed to cease distribution in the park and considered labeling their needles to better track where they end up."
That is a good start. Here is the thing, this may be a new program to Yolo County, but this is not a new concept. So when the Ms. Boney is saying we're still working out the details it does not really make sense. Details can be gleaned from other programs. Very basic things should apply, namely interjurisdictional cooperation.

It is commonsense that if you are going to hand out needles in a City's park you inform the city and their police department about it. It also seems commonsense that maybe a city park is not the place to hand out needles.

Ms. Boney continues:
"We're kind of going through that initial education period... We hope there will be support for the program."
It is hard to support such a program when you do not have confidence in those who are administrating it. It could be a good program, but there were such basic failings at the onset, that even those of us who are strongly in support of such efforts have no choice but to question it.

Where is the accountability here? I respect that Matt Rexroad opposes this, but what I really want to see is someone step up and make it work. Where do the rest of the county board of supervisors stand on this?

Ms. Boney believes that if the program prevents one case of HIV in the county, it will be a net savings to the county. I hope that is correct and it is one of the reasons I continue to support the program. However, I continue to have to question the competence of those administering this and the oversight. Who oversees administration of these type of programs? What is the board of supervisors going to do about it? We have so far only heard from Supervisor Rexroad--where do the four Supervisors who supported the program stand on this issue now that it has shown to be a problem in its current form?

---Doug Paul Davis reporting