A “sharps secure” needle-collection box in Portland. Four similar boxes will be placed around Westbrook this month. File photo / Portland Press Herald

Westbrook Partners for Prevention will install four community “sharps boxes” around the city this month for the proper disposal of syringes and other types of sharp medical waste.

Four locations were selected based on input from the public services, police and fire departments about the number of needles found in those areas, according to Janet Dosseva of Partners for Prevention. They are the Community Policing Center at 192 Brown St., the intersection of Cross and Central streets, Riverbank Park and at 901 Main St. on the Saccarappa Park fence.

The boxes, costing about $100 each, will be emptied regularly and are a first for the city, said Dosseva, program director for the nonprofit that provides education about substance misuse and addiction. State funding for the Opportunity Alliance, a Portland-based community and health nonprofit, will cover the costs of the boxes.

“Every year we participate in national drug take-back days with similar boxes, but people don’t have a way to dispose of sharps,” Dosseva said. “If they are diabetic, it’s hard for them to find a good, safe way to dispose of that. We’ve gotten requests, phone calls about needles in public and collaborated with the Opportunity Alliance to secure funding and implement sharps boxes throughout Westbrook.”

Medical sharps include lancets and auto-injectable devices, but boxes will also be open to the disposal of syringes used for illegal drugs.

Public Services and Westbrook Fire did not have data on the number of discarded needles collected in public, but Fire Chief Andrew Turcotte said the locations correlate to calls for service in the areas, such as for overdoses.

“Those areas are high traffic. There has been known to be drug use in those areas and we feel the areas need this,” Turcotte said.

The American Journal requested data on the calls for service in these areas but did not get the information by its deadline.

Zoe Brokos, an independent harm-reduction consultant who worked to get similar boxes in Portland, is assisting in the Westbrook effort. It’s too early to measure the boxes’ impact in Portland, she said, but that community has seen improvements, including fewer discarded syringes being found in parks and at playgrounds. The community also now has a better understanding about proper disposal, she said.

“We have seen the benefit to programs like this in a variety of ways,” Brokos said. “While these initiatives are often supported by funding specific to substance use and harm reduction, sharps disposal is an issue that impacts the whole community.”

Brokos said having the boxes out can reduce the stigma surrounding drug use and drug users.

“We have also seen this initiative assist in reducing the stigma associated with substance use by engaging in conversation and problem solving with city leaders – councilors, law enforcement, and parks and rec,” she said.

Improper disposal of sharps can pose a hazard to workers for Casella Waste Systems, which collects recycling and trash in the city, said Joe Fusco, Casella’s vice president of communications.

“From time to time, an employee will get stuck with a needle in a bag of trash,” Fusco said. “We are very concerned obviously when that happens, and we are concerned about this issue from a health and safety standpoint. It’s not just trash, where we see this problem, even more, is in our recycling facilities.”

Often people think they are disposing of needles safely by putting them in other empty containers, he said, but containers can break open when going through the recycling process. Other people assume sharps are recyclable in general, and many recyclables are hand assorted.

“A big part of this needs to be public education. Most of the time, it seems like a senior citizen, maybe taking insulin with good intentions, but it can pose hazards,” Fusco said.

Brokos advises anyone who gets stuck by a discarded needle to seek immediate medical help.

“It is important to go directly to the emergency room for testing and care. The medical provider can properly assess your risk and determine a plan of action,” she said.

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