Newport to sue in effort to stop state-approved needle exchange

Syringes were left behind along the banks of the Santa Ana River after a large homeless encampment was removed.
(File Photo / Los Angeles Times)

Newport Beach plans to file its own lawsuit against the state to block a planned mobile needle-exchange service that recently received state approval to operate in nearby Costa Mesa and three other Orange County cities.

Newport will be joining a wave of local resistance that includes legal action by Costa Mesa, Orange County, the Orange County Flood Control District, Anaheim and the city of Orange against the California Department of Public Health and the Orange County Needle Exchange Program.

Newport plans to file its suit later this week, said City Attorney Aaron Harp.

“The needle-exchange program poses a serious threat to citizens of Orange County and the city of Newport Beach in that it allows for the distribution of thousands of needles to drug-addicted individuals without a method to provide for the safe recovery of these syringes from the recipients, as required by law,” Harp said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting after the council unanimously agreed to sue.

The state Department of Public Health approved a proposal in late July to allow the Orange County Needle Exchange Program to distribute needles and other supplies for two years in Costa Mesa, Anaheim, Orange and Santa Ana, igniting indignation across the region.

Costa Mesa followed up on its decision this month to join a county lawsuit with an emergency moratorium on needle-exchange programs anywhere in the city, not just in the Westside location planned for OCNEP.

Supporters say such programs provide clean needles and help prevent the spread of diseases among intravenous drug users. But critics say the planned Costa Mesa operation — from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays on West 17th Street between Whittier Avenue and the city boundary with Newport Beach — would be inappropriate given its proximity to homes, businesses and schools.

Parents from Newport’s Carden Hall, a private school about a half-block outside the proposed boundary, asked the city to oppose the needle service in the area. Pacifica Christian High School and Coastline Community College also are in the immediate vicinity.

Newport Beach Police Chief Jon Lewis sent a letter to the state outlining public safety worries.

“My concern is the proximity of this program to many school-age children and how the interaction of the program’s clients to these schools’ parents, students and teachers may not be a positive one,” the letter stated.

The needle-exchange program, which formerly operated at a homeless encampment at the Santa Ana Civic Center and was the only one of its kind in the county, shut down early this year after Santa Ana denied it a permit, citing an increase in the number of discarded syringes in the area.

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5 p.m.: This article was updated to include Anaheim and the Orange County Flood Control District in the list of agencies that have taken legal action to try to stop the needle-exchange program.

This article was originally published at 1:15 p.m.