LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - The problem of needles being discovered throughout areas of La Crosse has been growing for years.
Now, two new needle drop-off boxes have been installed to help address the problem.
For several months now, the La Crosse County Health Department, along with several other agencies, has been trying to install needle drop off boxes in areas in La Crosse where they are most needed.
With the boxes now installed, one group in particular is hopeful the move will allow them to continue doing their main job.
The La Crosse Fire Department has been in charge of picking up needles since 2014.
"In 2015, we had about 214 responses for pickup, and in 2016 that number nearly doubled to 401,” said La Crosse Fire Department Assistant Chief Mark Amann.
The Fire Department says those responses take away from their primary job.
"It ties up that resource, takes them away from other things that we may be doing, whether its public safety inspection, whether it's training," Amann said.
That's why the La Crosse County Health Department has now installed two needle drop-off boxes, one by the Great River Boat Landing on the north side, and one in the King Street alley near downtown.
"For all purposes, we wanted to have a safe place for our residents to dispose of their needles and sharps,” said La Crosse County Health Director Jen Rombalski.
Each box is specifically built to allow safe disposal, while keeping those who are looking for needles out.
"You'll notice the box is very heavy-duty. The mechanism for which the box opens with is similar to a post office box that has a doorway entry that doesn't allow for a hand to go down into the box,” Rombalski said.
Officials with the Fire Department say they are optimistic the boxes will make a difference.
"We hope to start tracking our data from this point forward, where we've got our boxes now,” Amann said. “We hope to see our number of responses decrease, obviously."
The Health Department says the boxes aren't about enabling drug users. Instead, it’s about keeping the community safe.
"No matter where the needle is coming from, what we're using it for, they're there, and we need to recognize that those needles are present, and we want those needles to be disposed of in boxes, and not in our streets and in our parks,” Rombalski said.
The AIDS Resource Center, which runs a needle exchange program in La Crosse to prevent the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, released a statement to News 8 that reads, in part:
"City and county officials should be commended for taking the initiative to address this need in the community and ARCW has been honored to be invited to work with the offices of the La Crosse mayor as well as leaders of the Police, Fire, Public Works and Parks departments and the La Crosse County Health Department."
County officials said if the drop boxes are popular, they will consider adding them in other parts of La Crosse.
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