Volunteers helping to pick up used needles in parks, neighborhoods

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TACOMA -- It's a dirty reality in many neighborhoods -- used needles on sidewalks and in parks.

Some parts of Seattle are so bad that some residents in north Seattle are attending classes to learn how to safely dispose of syringes.

In Pierce County, many residents are already experts at the practice. Their efforts are a big reason why some parks known for needles are clean now.

“We have a lot of big parks in Tacoma,” city resident Leslie Young said.

Parks that Young treats like her own backyard.

“People shouldn’t be finding needles on their playground,” Young said.

After finding hypodermic needles in her Tacoma neighborhood, Young is no longer waiting for someone else to pick up the prickly mess.

“I started finding needles in my driveway,” Young said.

She volunteers her time looking to get rid of used needles that could pose a danger to kids and families who come to play and enjoy the outdoors.

But she understands the reluctance others may have.

“There is a lot of fear associated with syringes; we really encourage people to call us,” Alisa Solberg, of The Point Defiance Aids Project, said.

The Point Defiance Aids Project is a needle exchange program trying to combat that fear with a lesson on what you should do if you find a syringe.

Experts say first, grab gloves and a bio hazard bin.

If you don’t have a bin, they recommend a hard plastic container like a Gatorade bottle or a detergent container to drop the needles in.

Place the container or bottle away from your body and never hold onto the container while dropping the needle in. Make sure the needle point is facing down toward the ground -- that way you eliminate coming in contact with the needle.

Solberg says if you still feel uneasy, alert her group and they will get rid of the needles in Pierce County.

“We are likely going to see more syringes in public,” Solberg said.

She blames the prescription pill epidemic.

“Worst man-made epidemic in history, the CDC reports 12 million people are addicted to prescription opiates and many of them will transition into injecting (heroin),” Solberg said.

Meanwhile, people like Leslie Young is doing her part to keep parks safe, making a difference, one needle at a time.

“The more you raise the standard, you know, the less people do it,” Young said.

Once you have a needles in a bio hazard bin, it must be sealed and marked before you throw it away. Different counties have different rules on where you can take the materials. For more information call your area health department.