NEWBURYPORT — Discarded hypodermic needles can be found in school playgrounds, basketball courts, public parks and other places children play and exercise.
They pose a significant risk to public safety and shine a troubling light on one of the most pressing issues facing law enforcement and city officials — the spread of cheap and easy-to-obtain heroin and the growing number of addicts shooting up in public places.
Acknowledging the problem has apparently reached a new high, city officials and departments are in the midst of a full-court educational campaign alerting residents of the dangers these needles present and steps to remove them safely should they find them.
The city’s Department of Health has sent out a public health advisory urging residents and those visiting the city to properly dispose of needles, syringes and lancets, also known as “sharps.” A major fear, according to Robert Bracey, public health director, is the danger to children or those unaware of the risk of picking up a contaminated needle.
“It is a real health and safety issue when people improperly dispose of ‘sharps’ and used needles,” Bracey said.
Contaminated needles can injure people and spread infections that cause serious health conditions including hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Those who are accidentally stuck by a used needle should wash the wounded area immediately using water and soap or use a skin disinfectant such as rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer. Immediately after, it’s important to seek medical attention by calling a physician or local hospital, according to the health department.
As a way of minimizing the risk, last weekend inmates from the Essex County Correctional Facility in Middleton swept the city’s parks of all discarded needles, according to Mayor Donna Holaday.
“We’re at zero baseline as of now,” Holaday said yesterday.