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Health officials explain what to do if you find a syringe


The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va.  — Whether it’s accidentally dropped or hidden for safe keeping, a hypodermic syringe not properly disposed of is a hazard.

“What we’ve learned from talking to people is when dirty syringes are found hidden in the public, they might be discarded but they might also be stored there so people who use and reuse will know where they are and where they can find them,” said Dr. Michael Kilkenny, medical director of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department. “That’s a dangerous situation.”

It’s a situation the harm reduction program housed at the health department was built to combat.

The goal of the harm reduction program is to reduce the negative fallout from drug abuse, such as the spread of deadly and costly diseases like Hepatitis C, by providing new, sterile syringes.

“If people have access to clean syringes, they will use clean syringes,” Kilkenny said.

Firstly, the program drastically reduces needle sharing, which puts people at a higher risk for contracting Hepatitis C or HIV.

In fact, while 16 percent of new harm reduction participants say they share needles, only 4 percent of returning participants say they share. That’s a reduction of 75 percent.

As for reducing the rate of improperly discarded syringes, the exchange actively encourages participants to return their used syringes.

“We are constantly and consistently working to get syringes back,” Kilkenny said. “We have an 80 percent return rate. But, considering 20 percent are new clients each week, we have a pretty good return rate.”

Kilkenny also said as long as the syringes are properly being disposed of, it’s OK if they don’t get them back. They teach clients how to dispose of syringes at home using sharps containers or other heavy plastic container with a secure led, just as diabetes patients are taught to dispose of their sharps and syringes.

“There will still be some syringes that are discarded carelessly or dropped accidentally,” Kilkenny said. “If you have syringes in your pocket and you pull something else out of your pocket, you could drop a syringe on the street. Or it could be a careless toss away, which I don’t know how likely that is. When people don’t have access to syringes, they don’t throw syringes away until the needle is broken. It could be old, it could be bent, it could be dull, it could be rusty, and they will still use it as long as it can deliver the drug. We hear that time and again when we talk to users.

“But when they do have a clean syringe, they will use it. They don’t want to get Hepatitis C. They don’t want to get HIV. They know that is a risk, and they are completely capable of making a good decision for their own health even while they are in addiction. You have to give them the opportunity to make the good decision, and they will make the good decision.”

If a syringe is found in a public place anywhere within Cabell County, the first place to call is the health department. Someone will be sent to meet you and properly and safely dispose of the needle.

If you are in a Greater Huntington Parks and Recreation District park, all park staff is trained to properly dispose of syringes, said parks director Kevin Brady.

“We have the proper tools to collect the syringe, and we have sharps containers in all of our vehicles,” Brady said. “We collect them on a regular basis and turn them in to the health department.”

Brady said they also work closely with the health department and the police departments, so if an area has an increase in reports of syringes or drug use, they will sweep the area.

“We do everything we can to make parks and playgrounds as safe as possible,” Brady said. “We will take care of it as quickly as possible.”

If there is no parks staff and the health department is closed, you can also call 911, and someone will be dispatched to collect the syringe.

Kilkenny said the health department can also train local agencies and businesses on how to properly dispose of syringes.

The harm reduction clinic is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Wednesday. The health department can be reached at 304-523-6483.

Proper disposal of sharps

A household guide for proper disposal of syringes and sharps, from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

1. Place needles, syringes, lancets and other sharp objects in a hard plastic (such as bleach bottles) or metal container with a screw-on or tightly secured lid. A coffee can will do if the plastic lid is reinforced and sealed with heavy duty tape. Do not use glass or clear containers.

2. Place the container where you will be using your syringes and sharps to minimize handling. Make sure your storage location is child and animal proof.

3. Place the sharps in the container immediately after use. Do not try to recap, remove, bend or break the needles. This is where injuries occur.

4. When the container is nearly full, add a sanitizing solution, made by adding one teaspoon of household bleach to one pint of water, then seal the container.

5. With a permanent marker, print “Not recyclable treated sharps” on the outside of the container with a contrasting color. Place the sharps container in a plastic bag and seal it with tape in case leakage occurs.

6. Discard with the rest of your garbage

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