Heroin Crisis Creates New Threat to Public Health and Environment

Katelyn Sharkey

Opioid Addiction Treatment at RestoreHiding along the sidewalks, hiking trails, rivers, beaches and in the fields, playgrounds, and streets that we travel and that our children play are drug syringes left behind by heroin users. With today’s heroin epidemic only expanding and strengthening its grip on America, it was only a matter of time before innocent people and the habitat in which we live became unsuspecting victims of our nation’s drug crisis.

Needles used to inject illicit drugs are turning up left and right across the country – from big urban cities to small rural areas. The number of syringes gathered by public officials annually over the last five years sheds light on the gravity of this new health concern created by drug addiction.

In smaller cities, officials gather several hundreds of syringes each year, with Portland, Maine accounting for 700 thus far in 2017 and projected to surpass their total of 900 in 2016 altogether. For highly populated cities, however, the number of syringes accumulated in the length of a year reaches far beyond these numbers.

In March 2016 alone, San Francisco, California collected approximately 2,900 needles – over three times the total amount for Portland in the year 2016 altogether. Though drastic, these numbers are understandable based on both city’s size and population density. What is incomprehensible though is the dramatic increase that San Francisco faced when comparing numbers from March 2016 to March 2017. More than 13,000 syringes were collected in San Francisco, California in the month of March alone; approximately a 4.5 increase from the same month of the previous year and over 14 times greater than the 2016 total for Portland.

Discarded Drug Syringes Endangering the Public

This presents many dangers for people in public places, as anyone can easily be stuck by a discarded needle located within their surroundings. People can step on needles while walking in public parks, or they may encounter one and pick it up for proper disposal, but are accidentally stuck by the needle while doing so. Children are said to be the most at risk when it comes to this rising problem.

In California, a girl the age of six put a discarded syringe in her mouth, confusing it for a thermometer. Though no harm was caused to the young girl, the event brings attention to the unfortunate possibilities that could happen to curious or unaware children who come in contact with needles that may be carrying blood-borne illnesses.

Confirmation on whether anyone has gotten sick after being poked by these needles is still unclear. The opioid epidemic is the cause, and discarded syringes becoming a danger to the public and environment is the effect. Many efforts have been – and continue to be – put in place to stop America’s drug crisis at the source. Access to opioid addiction treatment programs is increasing exponentially across the U.S. Additionally, creating awareness about needles and syringes dumped in public locations, and having officials such as community outreach groups comb these areas for remnants of heroin use, are effective ways to help combat this problem.

What to do if You Find a Drug Syringe

  1. Do not pick it up. By handling a discarded syringe, you could be exposing yourself to possible disease or drugs. Many people are unaware of the correct way to dispose of needles, and therefore, it’s best to have a trained specialist come to the site and collect it to ensure proper removal.
  2. Call someone to collect it. Contact your local health department for information and they will either send someone to come pick it up or put you in contact with someone who can.
  3. If you do it yourself. As previously stated, it is highly advised that you do not pick up needles or syringes, but if you choose to do so, it is important to minimize any hand contact. You will need a pair of sturdy gloves that cover exposed skin on your hands and arms. Use disposable tongs, a dustpan, or a shovel to gather syringes and needles, then place them in a puncture-proof container and transport them to the nearest safe disposal site. Safe Needle Disposal, a project founded by NeedyMeds, is an information resource that provides a list of disposal locations in or around your community.
  4. If you do get stuck by a needle. It is important to remain calm in the event that this happens. Do not touch or suck the wound. You will need to head directly to your doctor, urgent care, or an emergency room. The medical staff at these locations will guide you further, administer immunizations, and run the necessary tests.
  5. What to tell your children. Creating awareness of this problem is crucial, especially among children. Show them what a syringe looks like, and while using age appropriate language, describe why they should never touch it. Be sure to tell them that if they see any syringes to get the nearest adult.

Get Help For Opioid Addiction

The volume of improperly disposed of needles and syringes found annually has left a staggering impression on public officials and members of the community and has revealed that drug addiction has truly engulfed the United States. If you or someone you know is suffering from heroin addiction or an opioid dependence of any kind, the treatment specialists at Restore Drug Rehab Center can help. Pick up the phone and call our admissions counselors today to learn about the highly effective programs for opioid addiction treatment available at Restore.

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