Discarded syringes littering Berkshires
A consequence of the recent spike in heroin use, used syringes are littering parks and lying near public roadways in the Berkshires.
"When someone comes across one, for obvious reasons, don't touch it," said North Adams Police Lt. David Sacco, who said there has definitely been a rise in needle littering in recent years.
That rise in littering corresponds to a dramatic rise in drug use across the region. Emergency responders are seeing more calls involving heroin use, police and prosecutors are reporting a surge in drug-related crimes, and the Brien Center is now treating more people for heroin abuse than alcohol abuse.
And while municipalities have different protocols when it comes to handling used needles, officials want to ensure that the public is aware of the risks involved when encountering used tools of the drug culture.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, a used syringe is capable of transmitting disease, including hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.
In North Adams, the Police Department is working to get the word out on how to respond to such a case.
The answer: Call them. The department recently posted to Facebook, advising its followers to call the non-emergency line at (413) 664-4944 if a syringe is found and an officer will respond immediately.
The Pittsfield Police Department does not respond to reports of syringes being found in a public place.
Residents are encouraged to call the city's Health Department at (413) 499-9411. The department will either guide the caller through disposing of the needle safely, or if needed, may be able to send an employee during business hours to take care of the needle.
"First we provide information to people if they call with a report of finding a syringe," said Gina Armstrong, Pittsfield's public health director. "Some people want to be able to dispose of it [themselves] quickly."
A syringe can be picked up with a tool, such as pliers, and placed in a puncture-proof container, such a plastic bleach jug or bottle, Armstrong said. It can then be disposed of at the walk-in clinic at 510 North St. in Pittsfield from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Officials are coordinating how to respond to such calls after the Health Department's business hours, Armstrong said.
"We'll be discussing this with other community agencies to kind of develop some clear guidelines," Armstrong said. "This problem has existed for years but I think we are seeing more of it now."
North Adams officers are trained in the handling of the needles, Sacco said. They wear rubber gloves and dispose of the needles in a red biohazard container, which every cruiser is equipped with.
While the discovery of used needles has become more common, Sacco said it certainly isn't an everyday occurrence.
"To say it happens once a day would be way off the mark, but [a syringe is found] about a couple times a month would be closer," he said.
Sacco said he discovered a handful of syringes, some unused, behind the former Silvio O. Conte Middle School before its renovation began earlier this year.
"We've also found them literally on the side of the road," Sacco said.
Jessica Chapman, an Adams resident, said she found a syringe in the park behind C.T. Plunkett Elementary School in Adams. Her husband, she said, found a needle on North Street in Pittsfield across from the Family Dollar.
Christopher Tremblay, of North Adams, said his tenants discovered a bag of needles and other paraphernalia on Harris Street. Cassie Witek has spotted them on Lower Linden Street, Columbia Street, and Winter Street in Adams.
Sacco also noted that if someone sees a person using heroin in public to call police.
"I certainly wouldn't interact with anybody, I wouldn't confront anybody," he said. "I would again just make a phone call to the police department saying there's suspicious activity going on."
What to do ... Here are some protocols for how to respond if you find a used syringe: In Pittsfield, residents are encouraged to call the citys Health Department at (413) 499-9411. The department will either guide the caller through disposing of the needle safely, or it may send an employee during business hours to take care of the needle. In North Adams, call the non-emergency police line at (413) 664-4944 and an officer will respond immediately. A syringe can be picked up with a tool, such as pliers, and placed in a puncture-proof container and disposed of at the walk-in clinic at 510 North St. in Pittsfield, between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.