Yuba Sutter Harm Reduction and Community Outreach will no longer be working to begin providing a syringe services program in the region, according to Rachel Farrell, chief executive officer for Harmony Health.
In May, the California Department of Public Health approved YSHRCO to operate a syringe services program in the region at three sites. One of the sites would be at Harmony Health in Linda and Farrell had been working closely with the program coordinator at YSHRCO to get the program running. The program would distribute syringes and safe injection material in Sharps containers that encourage safe disposal. Testing for hepatitis C and HIV would also have been available at the three sites.
Farrell said plans to begin the program were going smoothly until people on social media began claiming the program was the same as the one in Chico that has received criticism. She said the Yuba-Sutter program was based on a similar program in Plumas County that has been successful.
The program coordinator said what would have made the Yuba-Sutter program unique is that each patient receiving services would have a unique identifier to maintain the privacy of the individual but also track syringes going out and the syringes coming back with each person. She said most other programs in California do not use unique identifiers when providing syringe services.
However, residents, local governments and Assemblyman James Gallagher voiced opposition to the program and held a meeting on July 2 with people from Chico about why the program was wrong for Yuba-Sutter.
Farrell wanted to set up a town hall via video conference to address the concerns of the community and provide information from experts, but canceled the event.
“Why am I going to swim upstream,” Farrell said.
She said she was disappointed that misinformation about the program shared to the public led to people being in opposition.
“I think it’s fear based,” Farrell said. “People are so afraid.”
Farrell and the YSHRCO program coordinator have been working on the project on a volunteer basis and the only funding they received was $10,000 from the state to fund the program.
The Yuba City Council voted 4-0 Tuesday to pass an ordinance banning needle exchange programs in Yuba City, according to Mayor Shon Harris. Council Member Grace Espindola recused herself from the vote. Harris said she did so because her company has a contract or business relationship with the organization running the program.
While the program that was approved had a site that would operate in Sutter County it was not within the limits of Yuba City. Despite that, Harris said the area the mobile site would cover nudges up against Yuba City and he felt it was important to make sure the city was protected from the program.
Harris said while the state’s approval of the program supersedes the city ordinance it serves as a way to have the city be on record as against the program. If YSHRCO moves forward with the program into Yuba City, the next step would be to make it a land use issue and change zoning laws in Yuba City, Harris said.
On Tuesday, the Marysville City Council voted 5-0 supporting police chief Christian Sachs to send a letter of opposition of the proposed program to the CADPH, according to city manager Marti Brown. The council also voted to direct staff to prepare an ordinance to ban this and other such programs.
Brown said the ordinance will be introduced and voted on at the July 21 council meeting. The Sutter County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an ordinance banning needle exchange programs on June 23. The Yuba County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to the state voicing its opposition to the program.