Monday, March 22, 2010

*LEGISLATION UPDATE* 5 Bills Address Harm Reduction & Syringe Access in California

From California Department of Public Health, Office of AIDS:

Several harm reduction-related bills have been introduced into the California Legislature this year. Three would expand access to sterile syringes in the state; two would remove barriers to providing assistance in the case of drug overdose. Full texts of these bills are available here.

AB 1701 (Chesbro) would lift the December 31, 2010 sunset on the Disease Prevention Demonstration Project (DPDP), the pilot program established in 2005 which allows nonprescription sale of syringes (NPSS) in pharmacies which opt in to the program. The current program requires county and/or city authorization in order for pharmacies to participate.

SB 1029 (Yee) would conclude the five year pilot, and make NPSS standard pharmacy practice statewide. The bill would eliminate the need for local government and pharmacies to opt into a program, and for county health departments to manage a program. It would also raise the number of syringes that an individual may purchase and possess to 30.

AB 1858 (Blumenfield) would allow the California Department of Public Health to authorize syringe exchange programs in locations where the conditions exist for the rapid spread of viral hepatitis, HIV or other potentially deadly or disabling diseases.

AB 2145 (Ammiano) would provide legal protections to providers who prescribe Naloxone, an opiate overdose antidote, and offer similar protection to individuals who administer Naloxone in an emergency.

AB 2460 (Ammiano) would encourage bystanders to call 911 when witnessing an overdose event by offering limited protection from arrest for simple possession or paraphernalia charges for people who are present when 911 responders arrive.

For more information on the provisions of the bills and their statuses as they make their way through the Senate and Assembly check the websites of the Harm Reduction Coalition, the Drug Policy Alliance and CalHEP, the California Hepatitis Alliance.

Friday, March 12, 2010

***EVENT*** Cleaning Up and Reaching Out on March 27

Join us as we collaborate with others on March 27th to clean-up trash, train and organize teams to clean up used syringes, and educate neighbors. We will also be handing out free canned goods courtesy of Professor Al Smith and his Modesto Junior College students. You can't go wrong with free BBQ, music, and cool people. Hope to see you there!

When:     March 27, 2010
               Noon to 5PM
Where:    Cesar E. Chavez Park
               4th Street, Modesto

***Bring gloves if you have them!***

The Ana Liffey Drug Project: "If You Bang It, Bin It"

The Ana Liffey Drug Project's Peer Support Group is a well established programme designed to enable active drug users to spread Harm Reduction messages throughout the drug using community. The programme is set out over an eight week period and involves two morning sessions a week - Tuesday and Friday. The sessions include group work, outside speakers and talks from staff members on key drug issues. The course recognises the reality of the lifestyles of people who actively use drugs. The structure has been designed to be very flexible - participants have input into the topics to be covered, and the group is open access. The Peer Support Group also plays a valuable role in informing Ana Liffey's service delivery, through their 'Duck, Dive & Survive' resources. In 2009, Peer Support Group resources won a health literacy award.

Towards the end of 2009 the Ana Liffey Drug Project raised the issue of unsafe disposal of drug paraphernalia at a number of forums including the Peer Support Group. The Peer Support Group was concerned that people who did not dispose of their works appropriately were putting other people at risk. With this in mind the group were invited to work on a poster as part of their 'Duck, Dive & Survive' campaign.

Read more on the Ana Liffey Drug Project website here. Good stuff!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Community Alliance Weighs in on Stanislaus County Syringe Exchange Case

Check out this article printed by Community Alliance, a progressive organization based in Fresno. It is yet another valuable perspective of both the reality facing volunteers and the future of authorization in Stanislaus County. Any and all voices are welcome and appreciated in this struggle! Read the complete article below.

Community Alliance: "Modesto Harm Reduction Activists Still Facing Jail"

*And to clarify, this blogspot address noted in the reference section of the article is not the working of Brian Robinson. Off the Streets Project and this blog are maintained by a group of community outreach volunteers who actively support syringe exchange for our community.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Public Health Rally and Syringe Exchange Supporters in Downtown Modesto Make Some Noise

The mix of supporters gathered in front of the Stanislaus County Courthouse on February 1 were from all walks of life. More than thirty nurses, teachers, students, social service providers, outreach workers, volunteers, and other community members showed up ready to raise awareness about the importance of harm reduction in the valley. Each had their own reasons for being there, but one thing was constant. They care about progress and efficient solutions. They care about people. The rally and outreach event was organized in an effort to draw attention to the critical issue of syringe access in Stanislaus County. It also served to gather supporters in unity with two volunteers arrested at a high risk area syringe exchange program in April 2009. The volunteers were back in court to hear Judge Ricardo Cordova's ruling on the use of a medical necessity defense in their upcoming trial. 

Although the Modesto Bee referred to the group as "angry", in reality the public health supporters were poised and focused on promoting health and wellness for Stanislaus County . The message was loud and clear that public health and prevention must be valued over politics and moral arguments - clean needles SAVE MONEY and SAVE LIVES. The peaceful crowd offered educational materials to passers by, speakers shared their POV, community members were engaged and discussed their compelling stories with volunteers, and a variety of media outlets took interest in the activities out front of the courthouse. Reactions to the group were mixed and debates ensued, but there were no confrontations.
Inside Department 8, Judge Ricardo Cordova postponed his decision on whether a defense of medical necessity could be used when the defendant's face their jury starting March 23. He stated the need to explore the issue further. Evidence was discussed, including undercover audio and video tapes that had only just been turned over to the defense team weeks earlier. An interview with one of the volunteers that aired several months earlier on the Berkeley radio station KPFA was also discussed and then deemed admissable. The DAs also requested that Judge Cordova consider other items besides syringes such as cotton balls, sterile water, and sterile cookers (standard harm reduction tools) in the definition of 'paraphernalia'. This was met with firm argument from the defense and an obvious stirring in the crowd followed. Judge Cordova will revisit the issue at the next hearing.

Barring any further delays, the defendants and their supporters will be back in Department 8 on March 1 at 1:30 PM to hear the judge's ruling on medical necessity and the disputed paraphernalia issue. Although there will not be any organized activities planned in front of the courthouse, please join others inside the courtroom as a show of solidarity in support of public health and safety, prevention, and overall community wellness!


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

*EVENT* Rally for Public Heath & Safety: Supporting Syringe Exchange for Stanislaus County!

DATE:      February 1, 2010
TIME:      Noon
WHERE:  Stanislaus County Courthouse
                Corner of 11th and I Street
                Downtown Modesto

WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT! Come join those in our community concerned with the public health, safety, & wellness of Stanislaus County. We will rally in support of HEP C and HIV/AIDS education &prevention through SYRINGE EXCHANGE AUTHORIZATION on FEBRUARY 1st starting at NOON (speakers @ 12:45). Volunteers arrested at a Syringe Exchange Program at Mono Park in April 2009 will attend a hearing inside at 1:30 to find out if they will be allowed to use a defense of medical necessityn when they go to trial March 23. This is a crucial phase in the misdemeanor case against the public health workers. 

Meet in front of the Stanislaus County Courthouse on the corner of 11th & I in Downtown Modesto for an afternoon of solidarity against an emerging public health crisis. Come out and support common sense change for a better Stanislaus County!
  • 60-90% of  injection drug users have Hepatitis C.
  • Hepatitis is called the "Giant in the Closet" by Stanislaus County Health Services Agency in 2008 - it is the #2 infectious disease in the county. 
  • The Central Valley is home to the highest rates of injection drug use in the nation.
  • Injection drug related HIV/AIDS cases in Stanislaus County are among the highest in California.
But in 2008, Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors denied the Civil Grand Jury recommendations, ignored a laundry list of experts from both here and abroad, and voted against this widespread, valid, & absolutely necessary DISEASE PREVENTION tool.

SEPs provide valuable health and social services for pennies in comparison, saving taxpayers countless dollars. Prevention is far less expensive than any kind of treatment! And for many stigmatized individuals, families, and communities syringe exchange programs are their only bridge to education, empowerment, and hope. SEPs do not increase drug use, crime, or danger to communities, and they do not glamorize a lifestyle.

In fact, the very opposite is true.

For more information about what we do, to tell us your stories, volunteer, or for sources of information listed here, please contact us!

This is for real.

Monday, January 4, 2010

This Is Why: Poignant Words from Off the Streets Discussion Board an X-IV drug user, I wil tell you first hand that we need to have clean needles available. Personally, I cannot count how many times I have shared works, just to not be sick!!! And that is someting I said I would NEVER, EVER we all know, addiction is a disease of progression, and we will do whatever it takes to secure our fix. I recall picking up discarded works from the side of the street, and in gutters...horrible...I am grateful to have 2 years free of heroin now! I know to be cautious, all I have regained that was once lost could be lost again faster than one could ever imagine...we will not stop drug use all together...but we can provide the equipment needed to ensure drug use that will not spread the diseases of HIV and HEP C. I was active for 10 years and I did contract HEP the grace of the Goddess (in which I choose to believe)...I am HIV negative...How this happened, I can only say that I was pulled from a life of degredation and pain...and I will be grateful for everyday that I have here on Earth...SOBER and CLEAN... I firmly support making needle kits available to help ensure public safety. I am not supporting drug use, addict will stop at nothing to get what they need at that moment in time...why can't we make it just a little safer? Thanks for listening... 

(from Off the Streets Facebook Discussion Board, November 2009)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Letter of Support from Coalition of Police Supporting Harm Reduction

It is interesting to read through the many letters that have come in from all over showing support for the volunteers currently facing misdemeanor charges in Modesto. One letter in particular that stands out as relevant to the situation here in Stanislaus County comes from harm reduction expert and 17-year police veteran Gregory Denham, an ally from Australia.

Copied below is the letter he submitted to the Stanislaus District Attorney's Office in support of Brian Robinson and Kristy Tribuzio. Read it below - pretty much says it all. And for those who may argue that he is from Australia and it doesn't apply here, our answer is that substance use, public health and safety, and harm reduction principles know no boundaries. While environments and certain nuances may be unique, widespread patterns and implications remain rather consistent whether we are talking about Europe, Mexico or Atlanta, Georgia. Read on:

Gregory Denham
Law Enforcement and Harm Reduction Advisor
Nossal Institute for Global Health
Monash University
Victoria 3000

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Greg Denham and I am a former state police officer having served in an operational capacity for 17 years in state police forces in Australia. Over the past ten years or so I have been working both locally and internationally in promoting police/health partnerships with a particular focus on the prevention of the spread of HIV and other blood borne viruses.

As you would be aware, there has been a growing health emergency for nearly 30 years that has required urgent action to halt the spread of AIDS. None more evident is the USA where there are approximately 50,000 new HIV cases each year, thousands of new Hepatitis C cases also, many attributed to sharing contaminated injecting equipment.

Police are now recognised as an integral part of the approach to prevent the transmission of these potentially deadly diseases, the police role cannot be emphasised enough. 

The most effective police approach has been found to give to support to programs that seek to reduce the risk of the spread of HIV - to both the individual and the community (including police). These programs, often termed 'harm reduction', include needle and syringe programs, methadone treatment, and condom distribution. Numerous police agencies throughout the world (including in the USA) have initiated both formal and informal policies and practices that support these harm reduction approaches. They are well documented in the literature and have been successfully evaluated.

In policing terms, it is essential that police become aware of their important role in this issue. Harm reduction cannot, and will not, work without the active participation of police. Further, police must be supported at the government level in the adoption of these supportive policies and practices and advocacy must be conducted with the communities where these programs operate.

Police and government must understand that harm reduction programs do not facilitate drug use, increase the number of people using drugs, entice drug users into a community, nor increase crime. Research in fact shows the opposite; needle and syringe programs are an effective bridge to treatment and improve the amenity of the local area through cleaning up of discarded syringes and other paraphernalia.

To aid the development of more effective approaches by police and explain their role in policing terms, I have initiated the Coalition of Police Supporting Harm Reduction (COPS HR). This network provides training, guidance and advice to police officers throughout the world in their role in this important health issue.

I would be more than happy to elaborate on these points and am available to discuss these issues further at any time.

Best Regards,

Greg Denham
Law Enforcement and Harm Reduction Advisor
Nossal Institute for Global Health
Monash University

October 15th 2009

The Faith-Based Population: An Important Piece of the Puzzle

The significance of the faith-based population as a resource and connection to treatment and counseling for substance users and their families cannot be understated. Especially in Stanislaus County, churches and other spiritual groups have consistently been one of the strongest options for those in need of support in one way or another. The Central Valley is unique in diversity, but no matter one's background, the syringe exchange issue binds us all. It is our belief (and hope) that the faith-based community will play a very significant role in the future of syringe exchange in Stanislaus County. There are several religious groups and denominations with official positions on syringe exchange:

The Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative (IDPI), "... is formed is to organize people of faith to promote drug policy reform; i.e., moving from prohibition laws toward reasonable and compassionate drug regulation, education and treatment." For a handout of this information from IDPI click here.

10 Signs the Drug War is Ending: A Thought-Provoking List

I found this AlterNet article by Tony Newman really intriguing. What do you think? Is the Drug War on its way out? It's not going anywhere anytime soon, sure, but is the pendulum swinging in the right direction? Check out the list below and then link to AlterNet for a more detailed discussion about why the end may be coming.
From AlterNet, December 4, 2009
Here are 10 stories that contributed to the unprecedented momentum to end America's longest running war:
  1. Three former Latin American Presidents call the Drug War a failure (February)
  2. Michael Phelps and the bong hit heard around the world (February)
  3. Obama Justice Department says no more raids on patients and caregivers in states with medical marijuana laws (March)
  4. Drop the Rock! NY's Draconian Rockefeller drug laws finally reformed (April)
  5. Governor Arnold calls for debate on legalizing marijuana: Voters to decide in 2010 (May)
  6. US Drug Czar calls for end to the Drug War (May)
  7. Mexico and Argentina move to decriminalize marijuana and other drugs (August)
  8. The Results Are In: Portugal's Decriminalization Law of 2001 reduced transmission of disease, cut overdose deaths and incarceration, while not increasing drug use. (August)
  9. Coming Out of the Closet: "Stiletto Stoners" explain why they like marijuana (September)
  10. The marijuana legalization debate hits the mainstream (Fall )

Read the complete story here on AlterNet.

Decades-Long Federal Funding Ban Against Needle Exchange Lifted!!!

For those in the harm reduction community who have been working for the ban to be lifted since 1988 it is certainly a happy moment! The tune of Off the Streets allies who have been active in the 20+ year struggle reflects a small sense of relief and a renewed spirit for moving forward. In places like Stanislaus County, where syringe exchange is not yet authorized, the recent actions taken by Congress and the President to lift the ban offer a little bit of wind beneath our wings. We are hopeful that it will help stimulate and support the important conversations to come here in 2010. The tough work has started, but there is still so much more to do! And although there aren't stacks of money just laying around ready to be doled out now all of a sudden, the ban being lifted does serve as a strong message in favor of practical, efficient, public health interventions. Check out some of the links below for some more insight:

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Homeless Persons Memorial Day: The Longest Night of the Year

December 21, Winter Solstice - The wet sky over Salvation Army's Berberian Shelter did not dampen the spirit of the occasion as people from all walks of life gathered to remember those who died on the streets in 2009. Wonderful entertainment flowed all evening from Downey High School's Knightengales, Nick McClellan, and Joseph Hamilton. The shelter buzzed as folks hustled through intake and got settled while volunteers prepared for the distribution of blankets, clothing and shoes, and from CHS volunteers, bags that included things like toothbrushes, razors, and deodorant. Off the Streets folks handed out almost 100 blankets collected during the blanket drive, some plastic bags, and United Way 2-1-1 reference cards. Harm reduction materials about Amphetamines and Hepatitis C were also available.

It was so wonderful seeing these young people interact with others in this way without any hesitation! They really jumped right in and in turn walked away from this experience, I believe, seeing through new eyes. Pretty cool. And although some of our young people were not able to attend the event, their hard work collecting and preparing the blankets beforehand is just as important! This was truly a team effort! By the end of the distribution, many people were provided with much needed support resources. You just don't know how important the simple things are until you don't have them.

After music and refreshments, the candlelight vigil quietly memorialized those who died on the streets this year. The names of those known to have passed scrolled projecting on the shelter's wall, while a last minute volunteer played her flute softly and two students read the names aloud. The event closed with a stirring rendition of "Temporary Home" performed by Samantha Meroney. Just beautiful.

This is the 4th year of the HPMD with this group, but the first time being held at Salvation Army. Organizers and volunteers plan to meet regularly throughout 2010 to tighten up the logistics for next year at this location. This year's event was sponsored by Behavioral Health & Recovery Services and Golden Valley Health Center. If you would like to get involved, donate items, or sit on the planning committee contact Kimberlee Hamilton at

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Benefit Show in Fresno Rolls On Despite Wet Weather

Rain kept the gathering small, but about 20-30 people showed up to enjoy the Modesto Needle Exchange Legal Defense Fund Benefit Show on December 12. Performers included Watercolor Paintings, Johnny Young, Fern, and Taylor Price. Fresno Needle Exchange volunteer and California Prison Moratorium Project organizer Ashley Fairburn spoke on behalf of the Modesto Needle Exchange defendants. Fairburn spoke about the well-documented effectiveness of syringe exchange in reducing the costly spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, both prevalent in the Central Valley, and connecting those who use drugs to treatment services. She also spoke about the criminalization of the Modesto volunteers' public health interventions in Stanislaus County, and the ongoing failures of the Drug War, citing several examples from both here and abroad. About $112 was raised and great discussions about the efficacy of syringe exchange were had.
Thank you to the organizers, performers and attendees - and all supporters of needle exchange programs, harm reduction approaches, and using facts over politics.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Off the Streets Youth Volunteers Collecting Blankets Until Dec. 17!

The Blanket Drive is off to a great start! A lot of people are stepping up and joining in the effort. Roosevelt Junior High School will offer CJSF community service hours for students who volunteer, and it was also confirmed today that blankets collected by the youth will be shared at an annual event honoring those who have died on the streets of Stanislaus County this year. It will be a wonderful learning opportunity for our young people to be involved in this way!
The Homeless Persons' Memorial Day will be held this year on December 21 at the Salvation Army on D Street in Downtown Modesto. I will post a flyer when I receive one. There will be entertainment, refreshments, information, and a candlelight vigil. Off the Streets will also be doing some outreach and tabling educational resources. The event starts at 5:30.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

World AIDS Day 2009: The War on Drugs is NOT WORKING

(December 1, 2009, London) - Governments worldwide should take urgent action to reform punitive drug laws, disproportionate penalties, and harsh and discriminatory law enforcement practices as part of their efforts to address HIV among people who use drugs, Human Rights Watch and the International Harm Reduction Association said today, World AIDS Day. Current policies also cause needless suffering among people living with HIV/AIDS, the two groups said in a joint briefing note released today.
International health and drug control agencies - including the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, UNAIDS, UNICEF, the United Nations Development Program, and the World Health Organization - all endorse comprehensive harm reduction services as the best ways to address HIV among people who use drugs, including those in detention. These services include needle and syringe exchange, medication-assisted therapy (for example, with methadone), and peer outreach and education programs. Notwithstanding broad endorsement and overwhelming scientific evidence that these approaches work, they are out of reach for the vast majority of people who need them.
  • For the complete story posted on the Human Rights Watch website click here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

*Event* Community BBQ, Training, & Clean-Up Nov 29 @ Mellis Park

Off the Streets Project is working in collaboration with Modesto Brown Berets and will be out in the community cleaning up, reaching out, and working together to make a difference. Check it out:
  • Sunday November 29, 1pm-5pm
  • @ Mellis Park in Modesto
  • BBQ, Free Music, Open Mic
  • Know Your Rights Info & Training
  • Used Needle and Trash Clean-Up

Please come out and join us! It promises to be a great afternoon.

Props to Tom and Bianca of MBB for organizing this event...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Need More Convincing? Read "The Needle Nexus"

New York Times Magazine, November 17, 2009 - Needle exchange is AIDS prevention that works. While no one wants to have to put on a condom, every drug user prefers injecting with a clean needle. In 2003, an academic review of 99 cities around the world found:
  • cities with needle exchange saw their H.I.V. rates among injecting drug users drop 19 percent a year.
  • cities without needle exchange had an 8 percent increase per year.

Contrary to popular fears, needle exchange has not led to more drug use or higher crime rates. Studies have also found that drug addicts participating in needle ­exchanges are more likely to enter rehabilitation programs. Using needle exchange as part of a comprehensive attack on H.I.V. is endorsed by virtually every relevant United Nations and United States-government agency.

Drug injectors don’t pass infection only among themselves. Through their sex partners, H.I.V. is spread into the general population. In many countries, the H.I.V. epidemic began among drug injectors. In Russia in 2000, for example, needle-sharing was directly responsible for more than 95 percent of all cases of H.I.V. infection. So virtually all those with H.I.V. in Russia can trace their infection to a shared needle not many generations back. Though it has been scorned as special treatment for a despised population, AIDS prevention for drug users is in fact crucial to preventing a wider epidemic.

Read the complete story in The New York Times Magazine here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Clean Syringe Costs Just Pennies ... Literally

In 2007 the budget for Fresno Needle Exchange was $47,000 - and was 100% funded by grants and donations.
No taxpayer money was used to run this program. None. Zero. Zilch.
But on the flipside, how much money do you think this program has saved in lives, suffering, and public dollars over the 15 years it has been in existence? Is it even calculable? Doesn't Mastercard refer to that as "Priceless"?

*VIDEO* "The Risks of the Job: Protecting Law Enforcement from Needle Stick Injury"

It is an important message for Off the Streets to share that NEEDLE EXCHANGE PROGRAMS HELP PROTECT LAW ENFORCEMENT! It is an indisputable fact that services provided at syringe exchange programs are directly in line with supporting the safety of our officers working the streets. We want all members of our community to be safe from dangerous and sometimes deadly health risks that can be prevented.
  • Read this October 2009 fact sheet from the Foundation for AIDS Research. Something notable that was omitted from this fact sheet is that many SEPs also offer personal size sharps containers for users to store their used syringes. If syringes are properly contained, not only does California law then protect someone carrying them, law enforcement is further protected from needle stick injuries.

  • Click here to be connected to the video "The Risks of the Job: Protecting Law Enforcement from Needle Stick Injury," produced by Gretchen Hildebrand. THIS IS AN EXCELLENT VIDEO! PLEASE WATCH!

  • Off the Streets' DVD copy of "Risks of the Job" is available for lending to the community or it can be viewed with Off the Streets volunteers, accompanied with other supplemental resources, and/or can be part of a larger training series. For more information contact us at

In this short video, "The Risks of the Job" shows:

  • How law enforcement officers can avoid needle sticks in the field
  • How officers can protect themselves when needle sticks occur
  • How Syringe Exchange Programs are helping communities and law enforcement officers stay safer