Used hypodermic needles, likely those used for drugs, are being left behind in public places, such as parks and rest areas, at an increasing rate in the Western Treasure Valley, authorities say — and in fact, one was recently found by an employee in the bathroom of a local eatery.
While parents are advised to take caution before just turning their children loose to run around in public parks and spaces, local law enforcement agencies caution citizens against picking needles up to discard them — unless it’s completely unavoidable.
“It’s not even worth it,” said Payette County Sheriff’s Lt. Andy Creech, in an interview on Monday. “Even when dealing with them in law enforcement, we are careful because it’s a risk.”
Reasons for taking extra precautions are twofold: coming into contact with bloodborne diseases or drugs which might be easily absorbed through the skin.
Creech explained that blood and drugs are not always contained inside the needle, with some on the outside of the needle. But even if you have protective equipment such as gloves, the risk is high, he said.
“It’s not our recommendation,” Creech said of citizens picking up or disposing of found needles.
Instead, they would prefer citizens call dispatch and allow the proper authorities to pick up and dispose of the needle.
Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe said the matter is definitely a public safety issue and a health risk.
“You don’t really want to handle those,” he said of discarded needles that have been found, adding that in the majority of those cases there is no way to trace who left them.
Others at risk include employees of businesses who are tasked with having to clean up hypodermic needles and syringes that are left behind.
“We encourage businesses to develop/follow their policy when safe-handling syringes with their employees. If they do not have a policy in place, we recommend they do so,” said Ontario Police Lt. Jason Cooper in an email, who said the amount of found syringes in Ontario is steady/consistent.
In addition, Cooper recommended businesses get an official “sharps container,” which is a tamper-proof container used by hospitals/clinics and public safety officials to temporarily store sharps until they can be permanently destroyed. The containers are inexpensive, he said.
In the case of public restrooms, Ontario Police Chief Steven Romero shared an important public service announcement about a lesser-known risk: toilet paper. Some intravenous drug users clean their needles “by puncturing the needle into a roll of toilet paper, leaving blood, bodily fluids, etc. embedded into the toilet paper roll,” Cooper said.
“I do not recommend the handling of needles [even if they have latex gloves], unless it is a last resort,” Cooper wrote. “The use of a broom/dust pan or other tool to actually grab onto the needle for disposal is preferred.
“If the needle must be handled, always wear some type of barrier resistant gloves to protect yourself from bloodborne pathogens/diseases,” he said.
Cooper recommended letting first responders take care of needle disposal.
There are too many unknowns about found drug paraphernalia, Creech said.
In the unfortunate event that a citizen comes across a discarded needle or syringe, Creech also urged putting it immediately into a safe container, then in a safe place until it can be picked up by authorities.
In health-care settings, such as doctor’s offices, Creech said there are protocols to prevent medical professionals from being injured.
But that’s a controlled environment, Creech said. In a public place, “you have no idea what’s in it, who it’s from or any other background information.”
Being vigilant is key, Wolfe said. He recommended parents survey the area to look for hazards before a child is allowed to run around barefoot in parks.
“Maybe it’s not a needle, maybe it’s broken glass or something else,” he said.
Regardless, conversations with children regarding what to do if they find a needle need to be had between parents and their children, Wolfe said.
“It’s a reality.”