Harm Reduction Kept in Place, Despite No Successful Stats

About 3,220 people die from fatal drug overdoses in L.A . County every year – or about eight to nine people daily die from overdose. “The numbers are continually going up,” said Dr. Gary Tsai, director of L.A. County’s substance and Abuse prevention and control division.

L.A.County Public Health’s answer to decreasing addict’s death is Harm Reduction. That means that a user is not required to seek treatment because that would stigmatize drug use.

Rather the Public Health Department will try to keep that person alive until they are ready to seek treatment, by giving them clean needles, naloxone and fentanyl test strips.

During a forum, hosted by PHD, one person asked the panel, how many people were able to transition from Harm Reduction to treatment? What are the metrics for decline of HIV or infectious diseases, which the needle program is supposed to prevent?

Like some social science theories that are implemented, there weren’t any firm statistics for this program.

L. A. County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer

As PHD Director Barbara Ferrer said in the forum, “One thing that is very hard about public health data is, we use trend lines, it’s hard to show you how much disease we’re preventing in the moment. It’s hard to see what we’re preventing—that’s based on modeling. Everyone needs to look at the data and then think about some other markers.”

In an earlier CTN story click here  about harm reduction and the needles given in Santa Monica public parks, DPH said “from March 2023 – May 2023, approximately 45-60 people received clean syringes from Venice Family Clinic. Among these people, a majority are repeat customers. Five percent of participants generally pursued substance use treatment at the clinic, which is about the same as the national average.”

CTN wanted to clarify that of 45 people, only two sought rehab help and emailed DPH back to see if that was correct, because a five percent “success” rate for a program that was touted as one way to help prevent deaths seemed low.

“An August 9 email from DPH confirmed ‘From March – May, 45-60 individuals received sterile syringes from Venice Family Clinic. The 5% that sought out treatment is of the 30-40 people who interacted with VFC, about 1 – 2 individuals per month. From March – May, 5-6 individuals sought substance use disorder treatment.’

L.A. County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath supports the program.  In an August email to CTN, Horvath’s public spokesperson, Constance Farrell, “Harm reduction programs exist to save lives through overdose prevention. This is particularly important given the fentanyl crisis. One of the purposes is to collect used needles to prevent the spread of disease among users; Venice Family Clinic collects needles to prevent them from being left as refuse.” At the forum, that was disputed that needles were collected, but rather left laying in the parks and ending up in storm drains.

One might ask if the program doesn’t seem successful and overdoses are at record highs, why are not alternative methods sought?

Money. The L.A. County budget for the Harm Reduction program jumped from $5.4 million in 2023 to $31.5 million in 2024.

A new bill is making its way through the state legislature that would allow up to 25 percent of housing first state funding to go to recovery housing that requires residents to be sober.

An April 15 press release noted that “In 2016, California passed Housing First, which ensured that all homelessness policy is focused on getting people into housing without any requirements on credit, income, criminal background or sobriety. This led to the creation of harm reduction focused supportive housing that permits some drug use on their premises, and a prohibition of state funding for sober housing.

“In 2022, the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) modified their Housing First guidelines to include drug free recovery housing as a component of Housing First. California law hasn’t been updated to reflect these guidelines. As a result, drug free recovery housing is still unable to receive state funding, despite it being a widely proven and critical tool in confronting addiction.”

From transparent California and other sources, the 2022 salaries and benefits of the five people who were on the panel were: Dr. Gary Tsai ($641,043), Dr. Barbara Ferrer ($661,336), Dr. Brian Hurley ($468,180), Veronica Lewis ($261,000) and Shoshanna S. Scholar ($194,156). That total was $2,224,715.

Santa Monica police respond to an overdose in Palisades Park.
Photo: John Alle – Santa Monica Coalition

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One Response to Harm Reduction Kept in Place, Despite No Successful Stats

  1. Steve D. says:

    I have a couple of trend lines. The easier you make it to do drugs, the more people will do drugs. The more you turn a blind eye to drug use in parks, the more dangerous parks will be for children. I am not getting paid $661,336 per year to identify these trend lines. Consider it a public service.

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