July 25, 2018

USA: San Francisco Democratic Leaders Vote Unanimously To Ban Plastic Straws. The City Hands Out Plastic Syringes To Homeless Drug Users For Free That Pollute Their Streets And Health Risk.

ABC7, San Francisco local
written by Staff
Tuesday July 24, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO - San Francisco's board of supervisors voted unanimously to join cities such as Vancouver, Berkeley and Seattle in banning plastic straws.

The legislation proposed by Supervisor Katy Tang not only includes the elimination of plastic straws, but many non-recyclable plastic items like coffee stirrers. It also includes language that would make San Francisco the first city in the country to ban fluorinated chemicals in food containers. Because San Francisco uses 1-million plastic straws a day, the issue took center stage.

"I wanted to start with legislation to change containers like coffee cups which we use every single day, but wanted to then start a bit smaller for now and then move on the other items in the future." says Tang.

"We are dedicated to protecting our coast and waterways from the harmful effects of plastic and our disposable culture," said Eva Holman, the Program Lead for the Rise Above Plastics Campaign of the San Francisco Surfider Foundation.
Curbed San Francisco
written by Adam Brinklow
Wednesday May 9, 2018

Mayor Mark Farrell has said, repeatedly, in recent weeks that the problem of discarded syringes on city streets has become a sticking point for him, and the city promised millions of dollars to curb the problem of hazardous waste on sidewalks and streets.

Meanwhile, San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier and Ross chimed in Wednesday with an uncomfortable observation: Most of the needles littering streets in downtown neighborhoods came by way of the city itself, as part of the Department of Public Health’s 25-year-old needle exchange program.

According to the paper, the city hands out millions of syringes each year but collects roughly 60 percent of them back.

While not all of them end up on the streets—and indeed, it’s not possible to source where every single needle in the citywide haystack comes from—the numbers make it hard to conclude anything except that San Francisco is helping to supply the materials for a pressing public health problem.

As for why the city does this in the first place, here’s a rundown of the relevant numbers:
  • SF Director of Health Barbara Garcia estimated in 2016 that San Francisco has about 22,000 intravenous drug users, about one per every 38.49 residents based on a rough 2016 population of 846,816.
  • The city distributes approximately 400,000 syringes per month, about 18 per person, or one every one and a half to two days, between 4.45 to 4.8 million annually.
  • The reason the city does this is because in 2016 San Francisco had roughly 16,000 residents living with HIV and some 13,000 people with hepatitis C. The Center For Disease Control consistently reports that free needle programs significantly reduce transmission rates for blood-born diseases and that they’re cheaper than the additional public health costs from more infections.
  • Of the 400,000 or so monthly distributed needles, the city collects approximately 246,000 back on a monthly basis, and the Department of Public Works estimates about 12,640 it nets during monthly cleanups.
The Department of Public Health hopes that proposed safe injection sites will further reduce the number of discarded needles, estimating in 2016 that some 85 percent of the city’s injection drug users would utilize such services at least some of the time if available.

Although discarded needles pose a serious health risk to the general public, the Chronicle does note that “there are no known cases of disease from needle sticks in San Francisco.”
San Francisco Chronicle
written by Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross, KPIX-TV
Wednesday May 9, 2018

For all of City Hall’s tough talk of late about getting needles off the streets, the city itself is responsible for helping fuel the problem — handing out millions of syringes a year with little or no controls over their return.

And while the easy access to clean syringes is intended to protect public health, the city’s residents are not happy with the situation.

“The status quo on our streets today is simply unacceptable, and we’re not going to stand for it,” Mayor Mark Farrell said the other day as he stood on Natoma Street to unveil his new needle cleanup team.

Standing by his side, Director of Public Health Barbara Garcia said, “No needles on the streets — that’s our goal.”

No doubt that goal is well-intentioned, but what wasn’t mentioned is that the health department is the biggest source of the needles — it hands out an estimated 400,000 syringes a month through various programs aimed at reducing HIV and other health risks for drug users.

The program began under Mayor Frank Jordan in 1993. It was originally billed as a “needle exchange,” but there never have been strict rules for returns, and the number handed out has steadily climbed.

In fiscal 2013-14, for example, health department records show the city handed out 3.3 million needles at a cost of $400,397. Two years later, it handed out 4.45 million needles at a cost of $523,363.

Garcia said the program’s goal of ensuring access to sterile syringes is intended “to eliminate the transmission of blood-borne pathogens among people who inject drugs and their sexual partners.”

Health department statistics show the program appears to be working, at least on one level: The number of new HIV infections among people who inject drugs in San Francisco dropped from 106 in 2010 to 38 in 2016.

And while the city sees the public health benefit for users, the math on retrieving the free syringes and keeping them off of the streets has come up short.

Of the 400,000 needles distributed monthly, the health department estimates that about 246,000 come back though its 13 syringe access and disposal sites.

That leaves more than 154,000 needles a month still circulating. No one knows how many are tossed into garbage cans or into private needle retrieval boxes — but thousands wind up on streets and sidewalks, in tent camps, and in parks and playgrounds.

“It is hard to arrive at an exact number,” said health department spokeswoman Rachael Kagan. “That said, there is clearly needle litter on our streets, and we are working hard to address that.”

To combat the problem, the health department sends out crews who pick up about 8,000 needles per month off the streets.

San Francisco’s public works department also reports collecting an average of 12,640 needles per month when it cleans out homeless hot spots and encampments.

“Those are just the encampments crews,” said DPW spokeswoman Rachel Gordon.

How many of the remaining 133,000 or so needles are picked up by regular street cleaning crews is unknown, but walking some streets shows that the retrieval efforts are falling short.

Health officials maintain that the unlimited syringe access actually lowers the risk that a used needle on the street carries disease.

“When clean needles are available, there is less sharing, less disease transmission, and the discarded needles are less likely to be infectious,” Kagan said.

And there are no known cases of disease from needle sticks in San Francisco.

Still, in recent years the visible proliferation of needles on streets and in parks has become both a growing political and public relations problem for City Hall, as residents point to the problem when they call for cleaner streets.

The public clamor is one of the chief reasons Farrell announced a plan to spend $750,000 a year so the San Francisco AIDS Foundation could hire 10 people just to collect used needles.

“People are, quite frankly, fed up with the conditions of our streets, and so am I,” Farrell said at the news conference announcing the cleanup team.

But there was no mention of changing the policy of handing out unlimited numbers of needles.

“There are no changes to our syringe access programs,” Garcia said. “Research shows that reducing access to clean syringes increases disease and does not improve the problem of needle litter.

“Syringe access is part of a bigger picture,” she said.

The mayor agrees.

“My investment in a dedicated syringe clean team will tackle one of the unintended consequences of this program,” Farrell said. “But I will not walk back our health policy back to the stone ages.”

In the last half of 2017 alone, needle handouts grew to 3 million, meaning, if the rate continues, it will hit 6 million by the close of the fiscal year on June 30.

So, watch your step.

KPIX5 CBS San Francisco reports July 6, 2018 that Democrat run San Francisco filled with crime, homeless, needles, and feces scares away tourist and $40M Medical Convention.

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