FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Councilmember Miguel Arias called out Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp for her “silence on this issue” during Monday’s press conference on the needle exchange program soon to be established on Fulton Street in Downtown Fresno.

Monday’s controversy over the proposed needle exchange in Downtown Fresno began at Fresno City Hall when three city council members publicly spoke out against the proposal (click here for more information). It prompted a critical response from Fresno County that same afternoon, where officials fired back against the city’s claims (click here for more information).

During the first press conference, Councilmember Arias called on the District Attorney to reveal her position on the issue.

“In this county, the District Attorney has prosecuted drug dealers with murder, because they sold opioids with fentanyl. Yet, when the board of supervisors is funding drug paraphernalia for drug addicts, she says nothing. Where is she at on this issue?” said Arias.

Officials say there are no actual drugs that are passed out through the Harm Reduction Program.

In response to Arias’s accusations, Smittcamp sent a statement to saying she opposes any illegal and illicit drug activity – and that the needle exchange programs are supported by the Newsom Administration and do not violate the Health and Safety Code of the State of California.

The full statement is below.

“Since becoming the Fresno County District Attorney in 2015, I have continuously voiced my opposition to any activity that supports the use of illegal and illicit drugs. Any claims to the contrary by Mr. Arias, or anyone else for that matter, are untrue and unserious.  

It’s well known that needle exchange programs are supported by the Newsom Administration, lawfully paid for by the State, and do NOT violate the Health and Safety Code of the State of California. Therefore, there is no criminal liability or criminal law issues surrounding needle exchange programs. The majority of elected officials in Sacramento support and encourage these programs, but I am not one of those elected officials who condones the State handing out needles.  However, there is nothing in the law that allows for criminal prosecution for such state-funded needle exchange programs.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, at the request of Councilman Bredefeld, I visited the needle exchange bus and spent the morning with Dr. Lasher, the MD who runs the program. David Pomaville, the former Director of the Fresno County Public Health Department was also present during my visit. During the 3 hours I spent at the site and on the bus where Dr. Lasher treated patients with open wounds at their injection sites,  I had the opportunity to visit with some people who utilized this service. All shared very sad stories of addiction, but all were very appreciative for the program. Mr. Pomaville shared statistics with me to show the low number of incidents in Fresno County involving the transmission of the many diseases that are commonly spread through IV drug use.  It was his opinion that the needle exchange program was part of the reason Fresno County had low transmission numbers. Though this experience did not change my position on the exchange programs, as I still believe they encourage the use of illegal and illicit drugs and do nothing to combat addiction, my eyes were opened to the potential public health benefits surrounding the program.

It was after this visit when I researched the Health and Safety Code, and I discovered that there is nothing illegal about the needle exchange program. Accordingly, there are no prosecutable crimes applicable to individuals based on their utilizing the program or the medical providers who run it.  Additionally, I was informed that the supplies for the program are paid for by the State.  

No one, other than Councilman Bredefeld, has asked me for my opinion about the needle exchange program. The Board of Supervisors did not ask me for input prior to making their decision to move the site to the Department of Public Health on the Fulton Mall, nor was I made aware of the press conference until I was asked to comment on Mr. Arias’ latest unwarranted and unfounded attack.  I am hopeful that the move to the Fresno County Public Health Department site will encourage addicts using the needle exchange program to seek help from the County in addiction treatment and recovery. I am also hopeful that, moving forward, candidates, like Mr. Arias, will take the time to educate themselves on the facts and the law before making statements clearly designed to deflect and to gain attention, because neither tactic serves constituents or advances the public discourse.”

Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp

According to Fresno City Councilmember Miguel Arias, DA Smittcamp has endorsed at least one of the three Fresno County supervisors who voted to pass this Harm Reduction Program and place it in the center of Downtown Fresno (Sal Quintero, Buddy Mendes, or Brian Pacheco).

Arias himself is running for Quintero’s seat.