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Syringe Exchange Programs in California

Syringe exchange programs (SEPs also known as syringe services programs) have been operating in California, providing sterile syringes, collecting used ones, and acting as points of access to health education and care for people who inject drugs since the late 1980s. SEPs are a critical part of efforts to protect and improve the health of all Californians, and are one of the cornerstones of OA's efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of people who inject drugs.

Fact Sheets

Guidance

The Guidelines for Syringe Exchange Programs Funded by the California Department of Public Health (April 2020) (PDF) outline the minimum requirements for California SEPs to be funded with OA funds or receive materials through the California Syringe Exchange Supply Clearinghouse. The Guidelines also provide information on legal requirements associated with SEP operations in California state statute and ancillary information such as the Framework for Injection Drug User (IDU) Health and Wellness (Appendix D) to assist local health jurisdictions and SEPs in understanding the environment in which they work, and the ways in which they can do their best work.

Issue Briefs

Syringe Access Policies for California Syringe Exchange Programs (July 2017) (PDF) summarizes scientific evidence on good practice for syringe distribution, and recommends that California syringe exchange programs adopt needs-based distribution policies with the goal of ensuring that program participants have a new, sterile syringe and other injection equipment for each injection. The Issue Brief recommends against restrictive syringe access policies such as variations on one-for-one exchange, which are not supported by public health evidence and may impose harm upon SEP participants.

Smoking Supplies for Harm Reduction (September 2020) (PDF) summarizes amended state law that allows people to obtain and possess safer smoking materials, including pipes, from any authorized SEP in California. CDPH/Office of AIDS has determined that safer smoking materials, provided in a harm reduction context alongside health education and other care, may help individuals avoid initiation of injection drug use, and may allow people who inject drugs to transition from injection to safer modes of administration. This Issue Brief summarizes the public health research and encourages SEPs to provide safer smoking supplies and education to program participants.

Syringe Exchange Certification Program

In July 2013, CDPH/Office of AIDS established the Syringe Exchange Certification Program, which allows qualified entities to apply directly to CDPH/OA for authorization to provide syringe exchange services. This option allows providers to seek either local authorization from their city council or county board of supervisors, or state authorization through CDPH/OA.

The Syringe Exchange Certification Program does not provide funding to applicants, however all authorized SEPs are eligible to participate in the California Syringe Exchange Supply Clearinghouse, which provides a baseline level of supplies to authorized programs.

OA offers free technical assistance for programs interested in pursuing state certification and learning more about the Clearinghouse. For further information contact CDPH/Office of AIDS at 916-449-5900 or SEPapplication@cdph.ca.gov.

​For more information see:

Fact Sheet - Syringe Exchange Certification Program (PDF)

Operating Requirements for CDPH-Certified SEPs (PDF)  

Announcements

Applications open for public comment and list of State-Certified SEPs

Resources

  • CDC's Syringe Services Programs web page - Information from CDC about the use of federal funds to support syringe services programs, as well as links to additional resources and data.

  • Harm Reduction Coalition – Information and policy/advocacy support for communities working to establish, expand or improve effectiveness of syringe access/exchange services.

  • Tools and Resources (PDF) Materials on planning, designing, implementing, and monitoring SSPs adapted from the Department of Health and Human Services Implementation Guidance to Support Certain Components of Syringe Services Programs, 2016.

  • Framework for IDU Health and Wellness (2009) (PDF) - This paper outlines basic principles for health departments and community-based organizations seeking to improve drug user health.

Media

The Risks of the Job: Protecting Law Enforcement from Needle Stick Injuries (Video) - Made in cooperation with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), this educational documentary from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), Office of AIDS, explains how officers can reduce the risk of infection by needle stick injuries on the job. LAPD officers visit an SEP on their beat and explore the way that SEPs can help keep law enforcement officers and their communities safer. 

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