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Needle-Exchange Program To Reduce Littering Of Used Syringes In San Francisco

Armen Hareyan's picture

Littering Of Used Syringes I

San Francisco officials and not-for-profit groups have pledged toreform the city's needle-exchange program in response to public outcryover used syringes littering parks, the San Francisco Chroniclereports. As part of the reform, officials said they plan to installlocked, 24-hour biohazard syringe drop boxes and possibly provideretractable syringes.

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The city's needle-exchange program,which began in 1992, distributes about 2.4 million needles annually butonly receives 65% to 70% of them back after they are used, the Chroniclereports. Under the current system, injection drug users can returntheir used syringes only during the hours needle exchanges or healthclinics are open. Many unreturned needles have ended up in city parks,playgrounds and other outdoor areas, according to the Chronicle. Other cities -- including Seattle, Portland and some cities in New Mexico -- have return rates of more than 90%.

According to Mark Cloutier, executive director of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation,the first drop box will be installed within the next six weeks and willbe available for anonymous needle deposit at any time. The AIDSFoundation most likely will test the effectiveness of the drop box forsix months but expects to open others around the city, the Chronicle reports.

"Wecan recover a lot more needles" with the drop boxes, Cloutier said,adding, "We understand it's a public health problem, and we're excitedabout the attention that's happening."

Public health officialsalso plan to meet with manufacturers of retractable syringes -- inwhich the needle fully retracts into the syringe's barrel after oneinjection -- the Chronicle reports. Mitch Katz, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health,said retractable syringes cost seven times more than standard ones butcould prove to be worth the additional cost. Tracey Packer, interimdirector of the health department's HIV prevention program, saidofficials also are looking at providing homeless outreach workers withbiohazard boxes, giving IDUs biohazard packs that can carry 10 usedneedles and educating IDUs about needle safety (Knight, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/3).

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