The recent approval of a syringe services program in the Yuba-Sutter area has prompted local
government leaders to take steps toward banning any kind of needle exchange program.

Yuba Sutter Harm Reduction and Community Outreach (YSHRCO) received approval from the
California Department of Public Health in May to operate three sites in the region that would
distribute harm reduction kits that include syringes and safe injection material in a Sharps
container that encourages safe disposal. Two of the three sites will be mobile and will provide
finger stick testing for hepatitis C and HIV. Confirmatory testing will be available at the third site
at Harmony Health in Linda. The two mobile sites will be available once a week and services at
Harmony Health will be available twice a week.

The YSHRCO program coordinator said its program will be unique from others in California in
that a unique identifier will be used for each patient to maintain the person’s privacy and track
syringes in the region.

“There is a strong community benefit to programs designed to reduce further danger to the
health of those already addicted to injection drug use, but those programs have to be done
correctly,” said Bi-County Health Officer Dr. Phuong Luu via email. “Taking drugs using
contaminated needles is the perfect storm for spreading serious diseases like HIV/AIDS and
hepatitis B and C, which is why broader efforts to address such addictions commonly use
needle exchange programs.”

She said it is critical that there is greater community involvement in setting up programs like
“I am working with Yuba Sutter Harm Reduction and Community Outreach to find a positive
way forward that ultimately enhances the safety of the Yuba-Sutter community using a
comprehensive approach,” Luu said.

Illicit drug use in the Yuba-Sutter area is a real issue and concern, and drugs that require
needles play a part in that problem, said Yuba County Media and Community Relations
Coordinator Russ Brown.

“Needles will, from time to time, turn up in public places such as sidewalks, parks, and
buildings,” Brown said via email. “They are more likely to be seen in areas that are not heavily

Those opposing the program point to issues in areas such as Chico where a syringe program
has been operating.

On June 23, the Sutter County Board of Supervisor unanimously approved an ordinance that
bans needle exchange programs in the county.

“There’s no reason to even think about making it easier for a drug addict to have needles,
period,” said Sutter County Board Chairman Ron Sullenger.

Yuba City will be voting to approve a similar ordinance on July 7 and Marysville will be
considering introducing an ordinance at its council meeting on July 7. Yuba City Mayor Shon
Harris said he is sympathetic to the plight of those dealing with substance abuse in the
community but said approving a syringe service program is not in the best interest of the city
at-large. He personally witnessed a person using a needle in the restroom at Sam Brannan Park
on Gray Avenue. He said the problem of syringe litter is enough to prevent people from going
to certain places in the city.

Harris said he opposes the program because it contributes to a problem already present and it
is not a true needle exchange program.

“That’s a nice way of saying, ‘we’re going to hand out syringes,’” Harris said.
SAYLove founder Jeff Stephens said volunteers with the organization go to clean up different
areas in Yuba-Sutter and find needles in homeless camps and areas where garbage is dumped.
He said it’s not common to find needles in areas outside of the encampments. One of his
worries is that if the syringe program goes forward the discarded needles will become more
prevalent in places where the general public spends time.
“My big concern is to my volunteers,” Stephens said.

He doesn’t support the program and said on Thursday that he would tour Chico to get a better
sense of the impact its syringe services program had on the city.

“I don’t believe that’s the answer,” Stephens said. Law enforcement perspective
All law enforcement agencies who responded said they deal with used needles in some capacity.
Yuba City Police Department Lt. Sam Escheman said officers come across syringes on a daily

“We recommend the public not handle these needles if they come across them in public due to
the risk of possible exposure to communicable diseases,” Escheman said. “…YCPD does not
support a needle distribution program.”

Sutter County Sheriff’s deputies usually deal with needles when in contact with individuals who
have them in their possession. It is rare for them to see needles when they are out on patrol,
according to Captain Chad Niswonger. Occasionally, the department will get a call from a
member of the public who found a needle, but it is not common. Niswonger said the program could be helpful or could make the problem worse.
“It depends on the people being served by it,” Niswonger said. The Yuba County Sheriff’s Office comes across discarded syringes mostly in transient camps in
the county and is something deputies deal with in their regular course of duty, according to
spokesperson Leslie Carbah.

“We don’t condone illegal drug use but recognize that dirty syringe use and litter is a public
health risk,” Carbah said via email. “At this time, we haven’t really been a part of the review or
discussion concerning the CDPH program so it would be premature to offer an opinion.”

Possible solutions
Luu said the Yuba-Sutter area has active drug intervention, counseling and recovery programs
available for individuals and families that are dealing with substance abuse.
“Both private and public clinics as well as Yuba-Sutter behavioral health provide these vital
interventions and treatments,” Luu said. “Local law enforcement and the courts are an
important part of addressing drug addiction, as the intervention programs are seen as an
important solution.”
The program coordinator said telling people to stop using drugs does not work. She said
increased access to mental health services, more outpatient and inpatient treatment facilities
that take Medi-Cal, increased funding for treatment, increased access to affordable housing,
and increasing the amount of healthcare providers in the area who can prescribe medication,
assisted therapy and provide counseling are needed to fight the problem.
Sullenger connected the issue of substance abuse to the homelessness problem and the
county’s hands being tied when it comes to enforcing ordinances against encampments.
“I think typically it’s a problem that we try to sweep under the rug,” Sullenger said.
Cleaning up the areas where the homeless congregate is a way to start dealing with the
problem, he said.

Harris said Yuba City would be open to work with county and state agencies on programs to
address the greater issue. He said those running the program should be providing services to
help treat those suffering from addiction rather than using “syringes as a carrot.” SAYLove conducting clean up Saturday Volunteers with the local organization SAYLove will be conducting clean up efforts today (Saturday),
according to founder Jeff Stephens.

The group is meeting at Hope Point Nazarene Church at 600 North George Washington Blvd., Yuba
City, at 7:30 a.m. before heading out. The areas of focus on Saturday will be Ellis Lake and Simpson
Lane in Marysville, Stephens said.

The last Saturday of every month sees SAYLove volunteers participate in a special clean up project
somewhere in the Yuba-Sutter area.

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