Discarded Needles Plague Boston Playgrounds, Parks

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Copyright 2017 Boston Herald Inc.
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The Boston Herald


This story was reported and researched by Herald multimedia reporter Meghan Ottolini in conjunction with Emerson College/Boston Herald reinventing journalism students Rob Way, Marisa Dellatto, Jonathon Sheley House and Daniel Kam under the supervision of Herald Managing Editor Joe Dwinell.

Boston has seen a dramatic increase in the number of used hypodermic needles littering the city's streets and parks, with health officials reporting a stunning 60 percent surge in the sharp hazards collected since last October.

No neighborhood is 
immune, a study of 311 hotline calls shows, with residents from the North End to Roxbury, Eastie to Allston all reporting tossed dirty needles. And those complaints are also 
increasing, with September accounting for 8 percent of all calls over a 30-month period studied.

"It's an everyday occurrence in our playgrounds, in our parks, in our neighborhoods," said City Councilor At-Large Annissa 
Essaibi George.

At her urging, the city doubled the number of Mobile Sharps Collection Team members - city employees who patrol public spaces picking up discarded needles - in July. The staff expanded from two responders to four who are on call from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. The city funds the program $172,576 annually.

The Sharps squad also 
responds to requests over 311, the city's nonemergency call-in, app and Twitter hotline.

All told, the city collected 63,744 discarded needles in September, compared to 39,879 picked up last October, according to city data.

"We all know that the (opioid) epidemic has gotten worse over the last year," said Devin Larkin, 
director of Recovery Services at the city's Public Health Commission.

"Every month of 2017 has been busy. We've been consistently busy."

The four Sharps 
responders travel in pairs in vans, stretching their slim resources to clean up nearly every public space. Roxbury and the South End are the worst hit, 311 calls show.

Gertrude Howes Playground in Roxbury requires daily visits from the Sharps team, officials said.

That's no surprise to Lorraine Wheeler, who said she and her neighbors have found needles, and even drugs, in the park - including 50 syringes raked up one day in June.

"Then we knew we had a problem," she said.

Wheeler said she fears the city just can't keep up. "You want to make sure that kids are safe," she added.

As the opioid epidemic worsens, parks and maintenance workers are being trained to collect needles. Same goes for school custodians, who sweep playgrounds early.

"We're in the midst of the opioid crisis statewide," Larkin said. "And with the housing crunch here in Boston, we're experiencing a lot of people who are struggling with both addiction and homelessness."

Essaibi George is trying to jump-start a program so Boston pharmacies could take back used and discarded syringes. If the ordinance passes, it would increase the number of needle disposal sites in the city from nine to about 100.

City residents are being warned no matter how bad it gets, they should never touch or handle a needle, especially kids.

"Parks are supposed to be safe places, an area for children, and no children come here. It's gotten to that point," said Anthony Munoz-Pendergast, 22, as he walked home through Howes park last week. "There's too much drug use out here, too many people blatantly shooting up."

Jordan Frias contributed to this report.

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October 23, 2017


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