Pubdate: Mon, 17 Jul 2017
Source: New York Post (NY)
Copyright: 2017 N.Y.P. Holdings, Inc.


LOWELL, Mass. -- They hide in weeds along hiking trails and in
playground grass. They wash into rivers and float downstream to land
on beaches. They pepper baseball dugouts, sidewalks and streets.
Syringes left by drug users amid the heroin crisis are turning up 

In Portland, Maine, officials have collected more than 700 needles so
far this year, putting them on track to handily exceed the nearly 900
gathered in all of 2016. In March alone, San Francisco collected more
than 13,000 syringes, compared with only about 2,900 in the same month
in 2016.

People, often children, risk getting stuck by discarded needles,
raising the prospect they could contract blood-borne diseases such as
hepatitis or HIV or be exposed to remnants of heroin or other drugs.

It's unclear whether anyone has gotten sick, but the reports of
children finding the needles can be sickening in their own right. One
6-year-old girl in California mistook a discarded syringe for a
thermometer and put it in her mouth; she was unharmed.

"I just want more awareness that this is happening," said Nancy
Holmes, whose 11-year-old daughter stepped on a needle in Santa Cruz,
California, while swimming. "You would hear stories about finding
needles at the beach or being poked at the beach. But you think that
it wouldn't happen to you. Sure enough."

"We would certainly characterize this as a health hazard," said Tim
Soucy, health director in Manchester, New Hampshire's largest city,
which collected 570 needles in 2016, the first year it began tracking
the problem. It has found 247 needles so far this year.

Needles turn up in places like parks, baseball diamonds, trails and
beaches -- isolated spots where drug users can gather and attract
little attention, and often the same spots used by the public for
recreation. The needles are tossed out of carelessness or the fear of
being prosecuted for possessing them.

One child was poked by a needle left on the grounds of a Utah
elementary school. Another youngster stepped on one while playing on a
beach in New Hampshire.

Even if adults or children don't get sick, they still must endure an
unsettling battery of tests to make sure they didn't catch anything.
The girl who put a syringe in her mouth was not poked but had to be
tested for hepatitis B and C, her mother said.

Some community advocates are trying to sweep up the pollution.

He has a collection of several hundred needles in a fishbowl, a prop
he uses to illustrate that the problem is real and that towns must do
more to combat it.

"We started seeing it last year here and there. But now, it's just
raining needles everywhere we go," said Morrison, a burly, tattooed
construction worker whose Clean River Project has six boats working
parts of the 117-mile (188-kilometer) river.

Among the oldest tracking programs is in Santa Cruz, California, where
the community group Take Back Santa Cruz has reported finding more
than 14,500 needles in the county over the past 4 = years. It says it
has gotten reports of 12 people getting stuck, half of them children.

"It's become pretty commonplace to find them. We call it a rite of
passage for a child to find their first needle," said Gabrielle Korte,
a member of the group's needle team. "It's very depressing. It's
infuriating. It's just gross."

Some experts say the problem will ease only when more users get
treatment and more funding is directed to treatment programs.

Others are counting on needle exchange programs, now present in more
than 30 states, or the creation of safe spaces to shoot up -- already
introduced in Canada and proposed by US state and city officials from
New York to Seattle.

But Morrison and Korte complain that poor supervision at needle
exchanges will simply put more syringes in the hands of people who may
not dispose of them properly.

After complaints of discarded needles, Santa Cruz County took over its
exchange from a nonprofit in 2013 and implemented changes. It did away
with mobile exchanges and stopped allowing drug users to get needles
without turning in an equal number of used ones, said Jason Hoppin, a
spokesman for Santa Cruz County.

Along the Merrimack, nearly three dozen riverfront towns are debating
how to stem the flow of needles. Two regional planning commissions are
drafting a request for proposals for a cleanup plan. They hope to have
it ready by the end of July.

"We are all trying to get a grip on the problem," said Haverhill Mayor
James Fiorentini. "The stuff comes from somewhere. If we can work
together to stop it at the source, I am all for it."
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