As spring gets underway on the peninsula, the melting snow slowly reveals what has been hidden for months. Unfortunately, used syringes are often among the items unburied. These serve as stark reminders of the public health crisis facing the peninsula and the nation as a whole, and when spring comes the evidence of the opioid epidemic can no longer remain hidden.
Because peninsula residents have come across used needles in public parks and on sidewalks after snow melts, Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services releases guidelines every spring of how to properly dispose of syringes. According to DHSS, the options for safely disposing of found needles are limited on the peninsula, so it is important to know what they are. Public Health nurse Sherra Pritchard said that the city and community councils of Kenai, Soldotna, Sterling and Nikiski also organize annual cleanup weekends, which typically occur in May. Pritchard said that in 2015, 65 sharps and syringes were found during Nikiski’s cleanup day, with that number dropping significantly in the following years.
According to a press release from DHSS, the safest way to transport and dispose of used needles is by using a medical sharps container. These containers are widely used by medical professionals to dispose of biohazards. Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna and Providence Seward Medical Center provide sharps containers for free, and they are also available at some pharmacies and general stores. If a needle is discovered and no medical sharps container is available, DHSS recommends a puncture-proof plastic bottle with a lid as the next-best alternative. It is important to note that some drop-off sites only accept used needles if they are in the medical sharps container. Below is a list of approved drop-off sites for used needles and their policies.
Central Peninsula Hospital will accept needles in sturdy plastic containers, but medical sharps containers are preferred and are given out for free by the hospital. Non-medical containers should be marked “Sharps” and duct-taped shut. The hospital accepts needle drop-offs 24/7. Call 907-714-4404 for more information.
The Nikiski Fire Stations do accept used needles if necessary, but are not equipped for regular drop-offs. Sharps can be dropped off from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call Fire Station #1 (907-776-6401) or Fire Station #2 (907-776-6402) for more information.
South Peninsula Hospital accepts used needles from 1 to 3 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month in the loading dock area. Medical and non-medical containers are accepted, but non-medical containers should be marked “SHARPS/Do not recycle” and duct-taped shut. Call 907-235-8101 for more information.
Providence Seward Medical Center only accepts medical sharps containers, but drop-offs can be made 24/7 and the containers are available for free. Call 907-224-5205 for more information.
Gloves should always be worn when handling used needles, and DHSS warned against attempting to break the needle or recap the syringe, as this increases the risk of infection. Tongs, pliers or other similar tools may be used as well, but people should be careful of the needle slipping out of the tool’s grasp. If stuck with a used needle, the area should be cleaned immediately with soap, water and an antiseptic such as rubbing alcohol. Any person stuck by a used needle should also call a doctor or the hospital to determine if further action is needed.