SEATTLE—In its first 15 months of operation, Seattle Public Utilities’ pioneering Sharps Collection Pilot Program has collected and safely disposed of 32,012 hypodermic syringes, improving both the safety and cleanliness of the city’s neighborhoods.
Since February, people disposed of 26,647 syringes in nine SPU sharps disposal boxes around Seattle. Another 5,365 needles have been removed from public property since the program began, in August 2016, in response to 1,113 complaints. Complaints were filed online, with the City’s Find It, Fix It app, or phoned in to (206) 684-7587.
It is believed Seattle is the first U.S. city to combine syringe complaint response and disposal boxes as a standalone sharps program.
“Last year I worked with SPU to add funding to develop three pilot programs to address the increase in need to keep streets clean and safe; the ‘sharps’ pilot program was one of them.” said Lisa Herbold, who chairs City Council’s Rights, Utilities, Economic Development & Arts Committee.
“There is still much work to do and many people yet to connect with treatment. We must keep our focus to successfully address the needs of those that most need our help,” Herbold said.
SPU’s Idris Beauregard, who leads the needle collection pilot, credited the program’s initial successes to listening to and working with local communities.
“The department surveyed users of the City’s Find It, Fix It app to get a better understanding of where needles are most often found,” Beauregard said. “We asked about the effectiveness of sharps disposal boxes, what information platforms customers use most often, and whether customers have observed a reduction in the number of needles and feel safer as a result of the program.”
One of the things that particularly caught his attention, Beauregard said, was customers reporting needles found near schools and playgrounds—places where families spend their down time. “With me, being a father of two children, that’s where it really hit home,”
Beauregard said. “This is not just a drug problem, it’s a community problem.”
For Beauregard, ensuring the needle collection services benefit the entire Seattle community is an important focus of the program.
“If our goal is to create and maintain a safe, livable community for everyone, it’s our duty to engage harder-to reach-populations,” he said.
Sharps program materials were translated into Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese to better serve the most diverse Seattle neighborhoods. Additionally, SPU did not assume everyone has access to a computer or the ability to navigate an online survey written in English—so the department recently sent out 29,000 mail-in surveys with prepaid postage to residents living in close proximity to one of the syringe disposal boxes.
Seattle’s Sharps Collection Pilot Program also provides training and education to other City departments, community groups, business improvement associations, and Seattle Public Schools. One example was a workshop SPU held at Casa Latina, an organization that works on behalf of Latina and Latino immigrants.
“We had over 50 people show up, a number of whom are landscapers and are at higher risk to syringe exposure than the general population, given the nature of their work,” Beauregard said. “This is a population that may not feel the greatest comfort level with government, so we wanted to hold the workshop in a safe space, led in Spanish by a trusted member of the community, to empower those in attendance to ask questions about what to do when a needle is discovered.”
Beauregard said that, because the pilot program has only been in operation for 15 months, there is insufficient data at this point to say whether the large number of syringes collected correlates to an increase in drug usage around the city. The pilot is budgeted through December 2018.
Future plans for the sharps program include an informative video for businesses and community organizations on general sharp disposal information, and mail-in surveys to the communities that currently house the sharps disposal boxes.
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