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The latest on safe injection sites in Orange County, plus a new study that’s challenging their efficacy

Used syringes are discarded at a needle exchange clinic.
Used syringes are discarded at a needle exchange clinic.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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A little over two years ago, Santa Ana saw the opening of the Orange County Needle Exchange program, which was backed by public health voices who pushed for it as an effective intervention method.

But the program has been under fire since, from community members, as well as the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

In 2017, Santa Ana chose not to renew the program’s permit, but the effort stayed alive thanks to California’s Department of Public Health authorization to have it operate as a mobile program, serving Santa Ana, Anaheim, Orange and Costa Mesa. The Orange County Board of supervisors is suing to have it shut down before it starts operating. The first hearing on the case is scheduled later this month.

In August, the DOJ has said it’s considering cracking down on cities that operate drug injection sites -- though it’s unclear what that will mean on the ground in Orange County.

Meanwhile, a meta-study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy is questioning whether these supervised drug injection sites are effective at preventing overdose deaths.

We look at the latest on the drug injection program in Orange County, as well as the recent developments in the public health research.

UPDATE: Since the airing of this segment, the meta-study referenced in this article has been retracted by the International Journal of Drug Policy, who issued this statement:

In light of two critical reviews received by the journal after publication (available on request), and additional commissioned independent assessments, the Journal has retracted the following paper from publication: May, T., Bennett, T. and Holloway, K. (2018) The impact of medically supervised injection centres on drug-related harms: A meta-analysis, 59: 98-107.

This action is supported by the authors’ acknowledgement of methodological weaknesses linked to the pooling of diverse outcomes into a single composite measure (authors’ response to critical reviews also available on request from the Editor). The authors have acknowledged that these analyses should not have been undertaken in this way and resulted from honest human error in the use of methods. Accordingly, the authors acknowledge that the combined effect size reported in the original paper should be discounted. Given that the composite measure was a key finding reported by the original paper, the decision to retract the paper from publication had been made, including with the consent of the authors. The journal acknowledges that the peer review process did not pick up on the specific methodological weaknesses identified post publication. The journal takes its peer review process extremely seriously. It is for this reason that the journal commissioned an independent assessment of the original paper in addition to the original peer review reports in order to assess whether to retract the paper.


Jill Replogle, KPCC’s Orange County reporter; she tweets @jillrep

Shawn Nelson, vice chair of the Orange County Board of Supervisors; he is the Supervisor of the 4th District in OC, which includes Brea, Fullerton, La Habra and Placentia, and portions of Anaheim and Buena Park

Ricky Bluthenthal, professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, his research focuses on the effectiveness of needle exchange programs

Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director for Mental Health Policy at Stanford University; his focus includes federal mental health and drug policies