San Francisco Officials, Not-For-Profit Groups Promise To Reform Needle-Exchange Program To Reduce Littering of Used Syringes
San Francisco officials and not-for-profit groups have pledged to reform the city's needle-exchange program in response to public outcry over used syringes littering parks, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. As part of the reform, officials said they plan to install locked, 24-hour biohazard syringe drop boxes and possibly provide retractable syringes.
The city's needle-exchange program, which began in 1992, distributes about 2.4 million needles annually but only receives 65% to 70% of them back after they are used, the Chronicle reports. Under the current system, injection drug users can return their used syringes only during the hours needle exchanges or health clinics 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 will be available for anonymous needle deposit at any time. The AIDS Foundation most likely will test the effectiveness of the drop box for six months but expects to open others around the city, the Chronicle reports.
"We can recover a lot more needles" with the drop boxes, Cloutier said, adding, "We understand it's a public health problem, and we're excited about the attention that's happening."
Public health officials also plan to meet with manufacturers of retractable syringes -- in which the needle fully retracts into the syringe's barrel after one injection -- the Chronicle reports. Mitch Katz, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said retractable syringes cost seven times more than standard ones but could prove to be worth the additional cost. Tracey Packer, interim director of the health department's HIV prevention program, said officials also are looking at providing homeless outreach workers with biohazard boxes, giving IDUs biohazard packs that can carry 10 used needles and educating IDUs about needle safety (Knight, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/3).