Heroin addicts discarding their used syringes at parks and on beaches are causing a public health hazard across the U.S., particularly for children.
Needles hiding in the grass are pricking unassuming adults and children alike, which risks spreading blood-borne diseases and dosing the individual with remnants of drugs. Officials say needles are turning up on hiking trails, playgrounds, baseball dugouts and sidewalks. Volunteers in San Francisco collected a staggering 13,000 syringes in March alone, more than four times more than collected the same time last year, reports the Associated Press.
Volunteers in Maine, who collected a total of 900 needles in all of 2016, say they have already taken 700 discarded needles off the streets this year.
“I just want more awareness that this is happening,” Nancy Holmes, the mother of an 11-year old girl who stepped on a syringe while swimming in California, told the AP. “You would hear stories about finding needles at the beach or being poked at the beach. But you think that it wouldn’t happen to you. Sure enough.”
In another close call in California, a 6-year-old girl put a used needle in her mouth when she mistook it for a thermometer. The girl was unharmed but officials say the case is a disturbing example of the crisis facing communities throughout the country.
“We started seeing it last year here and there,” Rocky Morrison, who leads a cleanup crew in Massachusetts, told the Associated Press. “But now, it’s just raining needles everywhere we go.”
Drug overdoses kill one person every 11 minutes in the U.S. and are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under 50.
A study by STAT estimates that the annual death toll from opioids will rise by roughly 35 percent between 2015 and 2027 in the U.S. Their analysis predicts that up to 500,000 people could die from opioids over the next decade. The experts agree that, even in a best-case scenario, the crisis will not visibly start to subside until after 2020.
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