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See A Used Heroin Needle? Seattle Residents Learn To Pick Them Up Safely

A discarded hypodermic needle next to the train tracks outside the Yankee Diner on Shilshole Avenue. Neighbors have complained about drug use, waste and garbage they attribute to car campers and RVs in the neighborhood.
KUOW Photo/Jason Pagano
A discarded hypodermic needle next to the train tracks outside the Yankee Diner on Shilshole Avenue in Ballard, Seattle.

Seattle is experiencing a heroin epidemic. North Seattle residents say they find proof of that epidemic in parks and on sidewalks in the form of used, discarded needles. 

Mike Cuadra is a member of the North Precinct Advisory Council, a coalition of community groups and businesses from North Seattle neighborhoods. He's seen a rise in the number of needles littering his neighborhood over the past two years. 

"It's scary. I think people are frightened and angry," Cuadra said. 

And some residents are taking action. On Saturday, residents of North Seattle neighborhoods gathered at the Masonic Lodge in the University District to learn how to safely pick up and dispose of used needles. 

Cuadra organized the training, but he said it was people within the community who brought the issue to him. "They asked for this," he said.

"It was people telling us, we're doing this because I don't want my kids to get poked, I don't want my pets to get poked. And they wanted to learn the risks, proper handling and proper disposal of used syringes in public places."

[asset-images[{"caption": "Demonstration of proper needle cleanup.", "fid": "124375", "style": "offset_left", "uri": "public://201602/needlecleanup.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Kate O'Connell"}]]Cuadra stresses that people who don't feel comfortable picking up used needles should not do it. 

But, for those who want to take action or are already doing so, Saturday's class provided some basic safety guidelines to follow:

  • Treat all used needles as contaminated, diseases can spread through needle pokes.
  • Never pick up a needle with you bare hands, wear gloves.
  • Wear closed-toe shoes to protect your feet.
  • Use a tool like tongs, pliers or tweezers to pick up needles.
  • Don't discard needles in the trash. Use a sharps container or hard plastic container like a laundry detergent bottle.
  • Put the sharps container on a stable surface next to the needle. Avoid walking a far distance carrying a used needle.
  • Do not hold the container in your hand while placing needles inside it.
  • Pick up needles with the point facing away from you and place them in the container point down.
  • Remove gloves carefully to avoid contact with contaminated fluid.
  • Wash hands well afterwards.

If you find discarded needles in your neighborhood, but you don't feel comfortable picking them up, there are city servicesavailable. But Cuadra said these services seem to be overwhelmed.

"I think there are so many needles out there that people call, Parks and the City respond, but then the next day there's more needles there."

Cuadra said residents can feel comfortable using neighborhood spaces again after volunteers take on some of the clean up burden and safely remove used needles. 

Year started with KUOW: 1985 – 1986, 1991 – 2004, 2012
Year started with KUOW: 2015