.Letter to the Editor: Bottom Line is Saving Lives

Re: “Lawsuit Against Harm Reduction Coalition Dismissed” (goodtimes.sc, 12/16): David Terrazas, the Board of Supervisors, police chiefs, sheriff and other male leadership so quickly forget that in 2013, when Neal Coonerty served as Supervisor, the county opened two fixed locations for a newly formed government-run syringe access and disposal program. A simple web search reminds us that the county program at the outset worked with a volunteer community group that was responsible for mobile delivery. The county syringe program was never intended to be the only service provider for people who use drugs. Sadly the community-based program closed after the tragic death of a wonderful advocate and director, Emily Ager.

When that program closed, a large void was created. At no time during an overdose crisis that resulted in rising preventable deaths did the Board of Supervisors, directed primarily by Ryan Coonerty and Bruce McPherson, allow county staff to run an evidence-based, far-reaching program. Instead, they limited hours of operation, issued random arbitrary restrictions and barriers and consistently declined recommendations by staff to allow the smallest incremental improvements, all while railing on about syringe litter for nearly a decade.

For these reasons, the legacy of the Board will be having one of the highest overdose rates in the state.

As the founder of the Harm Reduction Coalition, my only regret is that we did not organize earlier to become an authorized program. If we had done this, fewer lives would have been lost to preventable overdose.

We organized in early 2018, and invited all key stakeholders to a meeting. There were nearly 70 people in the room. Despite invitations, four supervisors, all city council members from each jurisdiction (including Mr. Terrazas) and law enforcement leaders throughout the county chose not to attend nor engage at all.

secure document shredding

Thankfully, the recent lawsuit was a total failure. Organized NIMBY groups can not sue a government entity (that includes the county), misusing the important environmental law known as CEQA. What the plaintiffs and litigants should walk away with is 6,600 pages in the administrative record illustrating that we partner well with the county syringe program and county health service providers, and that we mitigate the harms associated with drug use that includes referrals upon request and we conduct syringe sweeps and disposal outreaching high-need areas as well.

We could not have predicted the pandemic; however, we are so thankful for the years we dedicated to building rapport with people throughout the county unable to access remote locations of the county program. We have been able to deliver supplies that include necessary PPE in a Covid-safe manner since the outset of the shelter-in-place order.

It is scientifically proven and accepted internationally that all harm-reduction programs save lives while reducing syringe litter. Make note of what the real issue is to opposition to the Harm Reduction Coalition of Santa Cruz County—objection to saving lives.

Denise Elerick | Founder, Harm Reduction Coalition of Santa Cruz County.

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