Most of us have seen discarded needles in parks and playgrounds at least once. As adults, we’re able to Google our way to proper safety precautions. But kids don’t always know what to do if they see a needle — and it’s never been a lesson parents have had to teach their kids.
That’s changing for Seattle kids. Last year, Capitol Hill mom Lauri Watkins discovered needles between the school and the play area during a school yard clean up. What initially appeared to be an isolated incident quickly transformed into a safety risk, as parents began to routinely discover needles around the school. While the Seattle Public School district and the school eventually took action, Watkins still wondered what was being done to educate the children.
“I asked, are the kids told what to do?” says Watkins. “The answer was no.” And when she attempted to find materials and resources, there weren’t any that were designed specifically for kids. There were plenty of websites sharing scary incidences, but nothing to help parents navigate this increasingly common issue. That’s why Watkins took it upon herself to create a resource for parents: www.seeaneedle.com.
For moms like Sara Dean, who lives in Phinney Ridge, this resource is timely. Just recently, while watering their garden, she and her husband discovered a handful of needles strewn about their yard. “We didn’t know about protocol, or a process. We just wanted them away from our 4 year-old” said Dean. This first encounter meant each step was blundered. Dean’s husband capped one of the needles and threw them in the garbage.
“Of course we shouldn’t have [done that],” says Dean. “But when you’re in the moment, you don’t always react in the best way.” It was only later, when she shared the experience with neighbors, that Dean discovered that there’s a process to handle needle disposal.
This issue is not specific to downtown — or even Seattle. “The opioid epidemic and related heroin addiction is a national issue that reaches far beyond our downtown footprint,” says James Sido, senior manager of media relations and issues management at the Downtown Seattle Association. The association, as part of its downtown ambassador program, offers needle-related clean up. In downtown alone, the cleanup has continued to grow exponentially: from an average of 140 needle pickups a month in 2014 to nearly 600 per month in 2016.
Parents like Greenwood mom Katy Pearce have witnessed the increase, and see it as an opportunity to engage kids on the struggles faced by other community members. Pearce tells her 8 year-old son, “It’s very sad, and we have to have very big hearts for this people. It’s taken over their bodies and minds.” She recognizes that in the near future her son will likely be exposed to more drug use, and seizes that opportunity to not only talk about the imminent danger of needles, but also the broader issues of drug addiction and the responsibility of the community. This approach is echoed by Watkins, who includes resources on the See A Needle site about treating those with addiction with dignity, including safe injection sites.
Finding needles can be scary, but it doesn’t need to be. Educating yourself and your neighbors on the best way to handle a needle or other sharp object is the best way to prevent needless harm.
Needle disposal resources
In Seattle and the surrounding areas, the options for needle assistance vary by where you live:
- Seattle: If you’re downtown, call (206) 441-3303 or notify a nearby downtown ambassador. Outside of downtown: If it’s on public property, call (206) 684-7587 or use the Find it, Fix it App to report the needle. If it’s on private property, follow the instructions below and discard at a sharps disposal location found here.
- King County: If it’s on public property, refer to the respective city’s website. If it’s on private property, follow the instructions below and call (206) 296-7483.
- Snohomish County: Consider picking up a free sharps disposal kit (details here), and follow the instructions provided here for disposal.
Sharps handling instructions
- Do not pick them up with your bare hands. Use a glove and tongs, shovel, or broom and dustpan.
- Place used sharps and syringes in a manufactured sharps container (purchase at pharmacies) or a 2-liter plastic soda pop bottle. Make sure the lid fits tightly and tape it shut. If you use a plastic pop bottle, label it: "SHARPS, DO NOT RECYCLE."
- Do not break the needle off from the syringe. If the needle gets broken off from a syringe you have personally used, pull the plunger out of the barrel, put the needle in the barrel, and then replace the plunger.
- Do not put sharps in the garbage.