Application to provide needle exchange in Placer County withdrawn after weeks of pushback

Rick Callahan/AP

A Sacramento-area organization that hoped to provide syringe exchange services in southern Placer County has withdrawn its application after it was met with a wave of resistance from residents and government officials.

“We’re thrilled to announce that Safer Alternatives for Networking and Education (SANE), the organization behind the proposal to introduce syringe services programs (SSPs) in Placer County, has officially withdrawn its application from the California Department of Public Health,” the Placer County Sheriff’s Office said in a social media post late Thursday.

“We received this news today and are deeply grateful to our incredible community for joining us in our steadfast opposition to (syringe services programs) within our county. We want to express our sincere appreciation for your unwavering support.”

“Thank you for standing with us. ... Your support makes all the difference,” the Sheriff’s Office said.

A message to officials at SANE wasn’t immediately returned.

The withdrawal comes after weeks of united action among Placer municipalities and county officials. After news of SANE’s application became known in August, Placer County Sheriff Wayne Woo and Probation Chief Marshall Hopper submitted an opposition letter to the California Department of Public Health, objecting to the proposal.

“The Placer County Sheriff’s Office is adamantly opposed to any program that normalizes and promotes illegal drug use in this County,” the letter said.

SANE proposed a home delivery service where participants could request a “discreet delivery” through a designated phone line and expect same-day or next-day delivery.

Woo and Hopper also raised concerns about the “unintended consequences” of a needle exchange in Placer County, citing the evidence that this proposal did not properly audit the dirty needles it collected or require drug users to turn in used needles to receive clean ones.

The letter spurred the Placer County Board of Supervisors to action, unanimously adopting a temporary ban against syringe exchange programs in unincorporated parts of the county.

The cities of Auburn and Rocklin followed suit, adopting their own ordinances banning syringe exchange programs. The town of Loomis also adopted a ban.

Roseville officials resisted ban on needle exchanges

The Roseville City Council took a different tack to the controversial proposal for needle exchange programs in its Sept. 20 meeting, stopping short of an outright ban.

City officials instead unanimously adopted a strict ordinance regulating any syringe exchange program that might try to operate within the city limits.

Under the ordinance, potential programs must receive prior approval from the California Department of Public Health; cannot operate within 600 feet of a school, public park or library; must provide proper disposal containers and cannot distribute needles to people known to dispose of them improperly.

“We simply don’t believe those are enforceable,” Cochran said. “We wanted to propose something we actually thought could potentially regulate and offset the negative impacts in the event the state forces this upon us.”

“Our hand was kind of forced,” said Roseville Police Chief Troy Bergstrom.

The ordinance is designed to comply with state law while also regulating the syringe distribution in the community, Cochran said.

City Council members agreed, saying they in no way wanted to welcome a syringe exchange program into the community out of concern for the negative effect it would have on public spaces. However, they still wanted to retain local control in the event one was approved by the state.

Before the withdrawal Thursday, Bergstrom said he was concerned about SANE’s application, saying it provided a “loose framework” and showed a “lack of accountability” for collecting used syringes.

“I don’t want this program in our city I don’t think it benefits us,” he said. “I think there are significant concerns with it. The other piece of this is the California Department of Public Health can approve this over our objections.”

The City Council unanimously approved the ordinance.