With the spring thaw, it’s not just last year’s trash that makes an appearance, it’s also used and dirty needles.

Maggie Glasgow, an area resident, has found needles, used condoms, and pills in a local park. She said she’s had discussions with her young children about how used needles can make people sick.

“I have taught them to recognize them and to not touch them. In two of the cases, they were with me when I called 311 or the fire department, and they were also there when they came to clean up the syringes,” Glasgow said. “I feel it’s important for the city to know what’s going on, and to continue to clean up this waste because kids play on our streets and in our parks. They have as much right as other children in the city to safe play areas.”

If you come across a used needle, it’s important to dispose of it properly. Don’t put them in the trash, as needles can poke and potentially infect sanitation workers, as well as those who look for bottles in the trash.

Adrienne Cloutier, communications advisor for the City of Edmonton, provided information on safe procedures.  

According to the Safe Needle Disposal Kit, call 311 if you’re not comfortable disposing of it.

If you are comfortable picking up a needle, there’s a few things to remember. First of all, never put the cap back on the needle or tamper with the needle. Otherwise, you’re risking exposure to blood or remaining drug residue. When picking up a needle, be sure the needle is tip down and facing away from you. Use tongs or tweezers or wear rubber gloves. Then, put the needle in a hard plastic container (such as a pop bottle with lid), seal it, and label it as containing a used needle.

The Streetworks Needle Exchange site, any eco station, and some pharmacies take used needles. Or, place needles inside yellow sharps needle disposal containers, found in mall washrooms and in Edmonton Public Library washrooms.

Once the needle has been safely disposed of, call 311 to report it.

This allows the city to track this information and make sound, evidence-based decisions on where needle boxes should be located for public safety,” said Cloutier.

After following all of the steps, what do you do if the needle punctures your skin?  

According to the Safe Needle Disposal Kit, “Allow [the] wound to bleed freely.” This ensures that bacteria, germs, and drug residue leave the body. “Wash the poke site right away with soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand rub (sanitizer).”

Then, call Alberta Health LINK (811) and seek medical attention immediately. If you still have the needle, bring it with you, sealed appropriately. If you can’t transport it safely, leave it in a disposal container.

The risks of getting sick or contracting a disease from a needle puncture are slim.

Cloutier explained, “When viruses in needles are exposed to the open air,  most viruses will die within minutes to hours or longer. There is no way to know how long a needle has been lying where you found it, so it is best to be safe.”

However, the risk is still present, and the most common viruses are hepatitis B, C, and HIV. Considering the seriousness of these illnesses, one should definitely exercise caution!

Disease is not the only risk factor present. According to an Edmonton Police Service officer, a new issue is the rise and risk of fentanyl. Because it is such a potent drug and is so easily absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream, it is possible for a trace amount on the needle to be absorbed and cause an overdose.

“You can have an amount smaller than a grain of salt and if it’s absorbed into your skin, you can be dead on the ground before anyone even knows what happened or can get you proper medical attention,” said the officer.

Needles can be found in places such as in alleys, gutters, parks, and paths. We can keep ourselves and each other safe by keeping our eyes open and attention focused. Common sense and a cool head can prevent a potential disaster.  

Visit edmonton.ca/needles for more information and to access the comprehensive Safe Needle Disposal Kit.

Featured Image: Be sure to report used needles and dispose of them safely. | Virginia Potkins