Sunday, 16 June 2024

Hatfield: County leaders should support Any Positive Change

I am writing to express how deeply moved I was by the interview I heard on KPFZ Dec. 15, with Annina van Voorene of Any Positive Change.

It is my belief that the public is woefully uninformed about the benefits of syringe exchange programs, or SEPs.

Drugs that are injected have a higher instance of transmitting HIV, hepatitis C and other diseases, injury to skin and soft tissue, substantial raises in acute and chronic diseases, and death. Injection drug use leads to a high cost of health care that California must bear.

Any Positive Change is doing exactly what its name implies, making small sustainable changes by providing clean safe injection materials to a portion of our community that is often marginalized.

These people who are currently unable due to pain or simply unwilling at this time to stop injecting substances can still be provided with clean materials that reduce sharing and disease transmission with the added benefit of drastically reducing the occurrence of injury, disease and loss of life.

It grieves me deeply that the Lake County Board of Supervisors is not throwing its full support behind a program that the California Public Health Department, or CDPH, and federal government have acknowledged works very well.

It appears that our residents and board members are sadly not aware of the science behind SEPs handing out glassware and any other material that makes substance use safer.

The CDPH has determined that many drugs that are commonly injected — including heroin, fentanyl, and methamphetamine — may also be smoked, which is a significantly less risky mode of consuming.

CDPH has written that the distribution of safer smoking materials may actually stop consumers from injecting and lessen chances of others initiating first time injection use. The availability of safer smoking supplies may reduce the risk of respiratory infections and injuries such as cuts and burns from using damaged pipes.

Sharing pipes or using broken pipes also leads to higher transmission rates of hepatitis C and respiratory infections such as tuberculosis, influenza and SARS-COV-2 that are spread by respiratory droplets.

Lack of access to new pipes is the primary reason drug smokers share pipes and use damaged pipes. People who smoke drugs may also resort to altering and using objects such as soda cans as makeshift pipes. This may introduce additional harmful chemicals from any printing or lining that may be on or in the can. Providing pipes to people who use drugs leads to decreased risks from sharing.

It was three years ago that California amended Health and Safety Code section 121349.1 to allow programs to distribute smoking materials. Why is Lake County so far behind in implementing these lifesaving changes?

I think law enforcement and local government should have been much more respectful of the wonderful service Ms. van Voorene has been providing for close to 30 years. Her service should be invited to every community in our county as her expert voice should be valued as the true expert in this county.

Lake County was one of 220 jurisdictions nationwide which were identified as high risk for HIV/hepatitis C outbreaks. It is high time we quit turning a blind eye to the problems we face.

We must embrace change. If our Board of Supervisors is not educating the public but instead are hampering programs that reduce risk, then I call on the local media and community groups to shine a light on the issue. We must disseminate factual science-based evidence countywide.

Linda Hatfield lives in Finley, California.

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