MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 319 and SB 689 Debate — March 12, 2019

The fun part of authoring legislation is that you get the opportunity to debate its merits, in both the Senate and Assembly committees and floors and in the public square.

In an effort to review the current fiscal and viability concerns about California’s high-speed rail, I’ve produced an in-depth analysis with recommendations. This effort is also in support of my High-Speed Road proposal, SB 319 (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 319 and SB 689 — March 3, 2019). The Orange County Breeze provides our press release on yesterday’s publication of the study in the first piece below. The joys of debating a position.

Speaking of debate, there will be those who will argue against your legislative proposals in an effort to have them fail. Debate strategies are many. In the second piece below, from the electronic version of the OC Register, two tactics are used, arrogance and shame. You’ve got to love the "we’re academics and we know we are right and smarter than you and we insist that our approach be adopted everywhere, whether you like it or not" and the "if you don’t agree with this, you must be for drug overdoses and much worse."

Should SB 689 be successful, it will give the proponents of needle exchanges the ability to persuade local elected leaders that their position is the correct approach and meets all of their claims (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 319 and SB 689 — March 3, 2019). This is preferable to showing up unilaterally, uninvited and leaving what residents of the impacted area may consider a mess.

What is so difficult about convincing a city’s leadership about the efficacy of a particular program, especially if you believe that you’re absolutely right? But, are they right? I didn’t hear any studies cited in their arguments, just conjecture. And if they had any studies to share, it’s likely that their proof of a successful program happened under the purview of – you guessed it – strong local control and oversight.

But I did hear the shrug implying the assumption that they couldn’t possibly persuade an unsophisticated majority of a city council. And, that was the intention of this bill. Well, not even trying to be approved to provide their mobile services got them into a courtroom in the first place. It may be helpful to come out of the ivory towers, get into the real world, and see what is happening with discarded syringes. It is not pretty or safe or healthy. The debate has begun.

In conclusion, the third piece, from California Globe, has a debate with quotes from both sides of the subject. Since the current strategy has resulted in litigation, I’m just trying to provide an appropriate procedure to follow. If the needle exchange provider is persuasive, then the debate has ended.

Sen. John Moorlach releases report on California’s high-speed rail project

Today state Sen. John M. W. Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, released a new report reevaluating the controversial California High-Speed Rail project:

Although some parts of the project have been called into question by Gov. Gavin Newsom, it remains very much alive and continues to consume billions of dollars of the taxpayers’ money.

Sen. Moorlach’s 43-page report reviews the reasons for and against the project, including: federal funding, local problems, comparisons with high-speed rail projects in Asia and Europe, electric power lines’ impact on the recent spate of wildfires, Democrats opposing the project and alternatives that would better advance environmental goals while more efficiently transporting people across the state.

The report concludes with a discussion of Sen. Moorlach’s proposal for a California Autobahn-style project that would add lanes without speed limits to the 5 and 99 freeways, which he calls the High-Speed Road.

This article was released by the Office of Senator John Moorlach.

In Orange County, “local control” is code for inaction on syringe exchange


We are heartened that Senator Moorlach and supporters of SB 689 recognize the overwhelming evidence on the efficacy of syringe exchange programs: they decrease the spread of infectious disease; do not increase drug use or local crime; and often act as an entry point for people who use injection drugs to access healthcare, drug treatment, and resources for their recovery.

However, when Moorlach proposes increased “local control” over syringe exchanges, he is not stepping forward to be a part of the solution. Indeed, SB 689 is no solution at all. At no time does he address how local officials could or will improve syringe exchange efforts in Orange County.

Instead, Moorlach is using the cloak of local control to mask Orange County officials’ complete unwillingness to carry out their own harm reduction activities or work with the Orange County Needle Exchange Program (OCNEP) to improve its operations. Local control would serve as a barrier to syringe exchange programs and not a promise to help reform and improve them.

We would know: as long-time members of OCNEP’s leadership, we have often attempted to draw local members of City Councils, law enforcement, and the OC Health Care Agency into the fight against the opioid epidemic. OCNEP was founded because Orange County was (and once against is) the largest county in California without an evidence-based syringe exchange. Unfortunately, at all junctures we have been met with willful blindness to the evidence behind syringe exchange, hostility towards efforts for compromise, and foot-dragging around accepting the need for a syringe exchange in Orange County.

We do not contest the argument that collaborative relationships between syringe exchanges, local city councils, police, and health officials are imperative to helping both people who use injection drugs and also the broader community. In fact, many syringe exchanges across California have not had to seek authorization from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) because local officials were willing to play their part in harm reduction efforts. Instead of litigation, OCNEP would rather be working with officials to save the lives of Orange County citizens.

But through passing ordinances against syringe exchange and providing no other alternatives, local City Councils have shown that they have no interest in combating the opioid epidemic. By suing (rather than collaborating with) OCNEP, the OC Board of Supervisors made it clear that they have no real concern for our clients. The state’s ability to authorize syringe programs through the CDPH in the face of local inaction must be preserved.

Orange County’s version of local control is feigning concern about injection drug users and the opioid epidemic while trying to crush harm reduction efforts in the County that did and would continue to save lives. By not offering a single solution to issues that existed with OCNEP, it is clear that SB 689 supporters are comfortable with continuing to ignore the very real problem of substance use and overdose deaths in Orange County.

Local control only works if local government actually wants to solve problems, and Orange County officials only became interested in that control when they sought to shut OCNEP down. Local control is Orange County’s cover for denying access to needed resources as the nation’s opioid epidemic rages on.

Nathan Birnbaum is a fourth-year medical student at UC Irvine School of Medicine. Dallas Augustine is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Criminology, Law, and Society at UC Irvine. Mahan Naeim is a graduate of UC Irvine with a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering.

Senator Moorlach Pushes Back Against Needle Exchange

SB 689 gives localities veto power over programs meant to curb drug abuse

By Laura Hauther

State Senator John Moorlach wants communities to have a say regarding needle exchange programs. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Opioid drug use is becoming an ever-larger nationwide issue but there is not yet agreement on how best to combat the problem. Some communities are pushing back on some of the more controversial harm reduction efforts like needle exchange programs (NEP). Such programs, opponents argue, bring more addicts into an area and cause increased crime, needle litter, and encourage more drug use.

Last Friday, in line with some of those complaints, Orange County state Senator John Moorlach introduced SB 689, a bill that would give cities local control over needle exchange programs by requiring local authorities to give any state-approved NEP the OK to operate in their communities.

Moorlach said he believes this would encourage good government etiquette and stop costly lawsuits.

“All I’m saying is let’s have a protocol in place,” Moorlach says. “These communities shouldn’t have to sue or waste money on litigation.”

Last year Orange County’s Board of Supervisors sued to stop a state-approved mobile NEP organized by Orange County Needle Exchange Program (OCNEP), a non-profit that planned to operate a mobile program in Costa Mesa, Anaheim, Orange, and Santa Ana.

San Diego County Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil granted the board’s request for an injunction in November, citing 250,000 needles distributed that were not returned and reports of needle litter in parks and libraries. The injunction temporarily blocked the OCNEP from going forward until a hearing determines its fate sometime in 2019.

The state allows organizations to apply directly to the California Department of Health, Office of AIDS (CDH) to get authorization to run a needle exchange program once they’re met a list of requirements. The CDH may also help with supplies and funding.

Widespread IV drug use and the growing numbers of death by overdose has moved drug addiction to the center of public health programs in cities throughout the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, use of heroin and other opioids has gone up in most age groups and all income levels, even in groups with traditionally low rates of addiction, such as women and people with health insurance.

Overdose is now the most frequent cause of death in America for those under 50, and one prediction projects such deaths could rise from the current 100 a day to up to as much as 250 per day, according to a panel of public health experts in Stat magazine.

Before trying to develop their mobile program, OCNEP operated a weekly needle exchange at the Santa Ana Civic Center for two years before it was shut down in January of 2018 when their permit was revoked. They were the only needle exchange in Orange County, but even so they were only allowed to operate two hours a week, sometimes not even getting to everyone in line. They followed a protocol of giving out 20 needles to each one turned in, a strategy shown by studies to decrease rates of disease spread by dirty needles, like HIV and Hepatitis C. Clean needles also mean fewer incidences of MERSA and sepsis. The idea is to give the user enough clean needles to get them through to the next visit. To mitigate needle litter they also gave out free sharps disposal containers to encourage users to package used needles in ways where they are unlikely to puncture anyone accidentally.

In a statement on their website, OCNEP said studies show needle exchange programs usually do not result in more discarded syringes. They groups points out that “syringe litter” existed before their program and after it was shut down, citing a study that found “In cities without a needle exchange, improper disposal can be 800% higher.

OCNEP also insists they were trying to address specific community concerns about needle litter mentioned in the lawsuit when they were forced to shut their doors; by the time the program was shut down OCNEP was cleaning up more syringes from the surrounding community than they were passing out each week.

Syringe clean-up program would have been more effective, the groups claims, if Orange County’s health department had cooperated with their efforts and helped them keep the needle exchange open more often. Ricky Blumenthal, professor of preventive medicine at USC, said in an interview with Vox that the needle litter problem was exacerbated by the program’s limited two-hour a week schedule.

“In an ideal world you would have a syringe exchange program open for 40 hours a week,” Blumenthal added.

Michael Marquesen, executive director of Los Angeles Community Health Project, said efforts to shut down NEPs are “NIMBYism masquerading as concern. This is an end run around state law. The law was changed years ago so programs could go directly to the state and avoid this kind of thing.”

‘Needle exchanges or needle mills?’

State Senator Moorlach says he responding to the needs of his community. “I’m getting support from city councils and local governments–these programs should be on the local level. They should come from the bottom up, not the top down. Are these needle exchanges or needle mills? Is this really helping addicts to move toward sobriety?”

At the press conference announcing SB 689, Moorlach was joined by a wide range of Orange County officials, including Orange Mayor Mark Murphy, Anaheim City Councilman Trevor O’Neil, Costa Mesa City Councilwoman Sandra Genis, and Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer.

In an interview with KTLA news, Spitzer was clear he believes the NEP’s create problems for communities: “This is about a society which is starting to sanction this kind of behavior and trying to tell all of us that it’s OK. It’s not OK. We’re losing our neighborhoods.”

Moorlach also insists this is not an attempt to stop IV drug users from getting clean needles to prevent the spread of disease, saying anyone can go to a local pharmacy to exchange needles.

While the law requiring a prescription for syringes changed in 2015, pharmacies are still allowed to deny the request if they suspect IV drugs use. And they’re not free.

Scott Davis, former needle exchange coordinator at HIV Alliance in Oregon, said NEPs are not only a way for IV drug users to access a wide range of health care services, but also provide with each contact an opportunity to for a drug user to opt for treatment, as shown in several studies.

“It might take 20, 30, even 50 contacts to build that level of trust. It helps get them into treatment.” Davis said. “When they come to the exchange they’re treated with kindness and dignity. It makes a difference.”


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