Sharps drop off boxes to combat discarded needles

Task force considering public needle drop boxes

The Heroin and Illicit Drugs Task Force is considering a new way to make sure syringes stay off the streets.

A sub-committee of the drug task force is looking to purchase two sharps drop-box containers to put in public, one on the north side of La Crosse, and one on the south side.

“It doesn’t matter what the needles are being used for,” Jen Rombalski, director of the La Crosse County Health Department said. “The point is we have needles in the community we don’t want there.”

Whether or not discarded needles are coming from the needle exchange program out of La Crosse’s AIDs resource center, it’s clear something needs to be done.

“I’m pretty familiar with a lot of the needle usage activities that take place across the state, and La Crosse definitely is one that comes to mind with the most issues related to improperly discarded syringes,” said Scott Stokes, director of Prevention Services at the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin.

The task force wants to add sharps drop-off boxes to public places somewhere on the north side and the south side to make discarding needles as easy as possible.

“This should help alleviate, one, the needles found in public, and two, the number of calls non-emergency dispatch gets, and the fire department has to run out and pick them up,” Al Bliss, coordinator of the task force, said.

Both medical and drug needles could be dropped off in the boxes, which cost about $1,000 and would be the size of a mailbox.

“We need to make sure they’re secure, can’t be removed and can’t be damaged in a way that would cause hazard to people disposing or picking up needles,” Rombalski said.

Committee members are speaking with other communities that already have public sharps drop off boxes, like Jackson County, where there are two.

“We know sometimes it’s hard to find a safe place to put them,” Monica Lobenstein, a 4-H Youth Development agent for Jackson County UW-Extension. “It’s really worked out well for our community.”

Health officials say making needle disposal easier is part of the solution to a not-so-easy problem.

“It just adds one more opportunity to make it easy for people to dispose of needles properly,” Rombalski said.

Rombalski said that if all goes well, we could see the sharps containers as early as the end of January or early February.