Safe disposal of discarded needles can help prevent getting pricked and possibly infected

With several recent instances of people in Thompson reporting on social media that they have found used syringes outside or in public areas of apartment buildings, the Northern Regional Health Authority (NRHA) is reminding residents how to safely deal with discarded needles.

If you find a needle, you should pick it up by the plunger end where it’s not sharp, wearing gloves or using tongs or pliers to protect yourself, says Courtney Almas, a public health nurse and the NRHA’s sexually transmitted, blood borne infections and harm reduction co-ordinator. The needles should then be deposited in a hard-sided container and the container labelled “sharps.” It can then be taken to any NRHA facility or a public needle container for disposal. If the container can not be taken for disposal immediately, it should be stored where it can’t be reached by children or pets. Needles should not be placed in household garbage or recycling bins.

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Thompson has two needle disposal containers – one outside the clinic in the Plaza and the other outside the Thompson General Hospital. Few needles are disposed in these containers, the NRHA told the Thompson Citizen in 2018, though it doesn’t keep statistics on their use.

If you do not feel comfortable disposing of a discarded needle or if you find several in a pile in a location such as a stairwell or by a dumpster, you can call the Thompson public health office at 204-677-5350.

Found needles can also be reported to the Safer Choices Northern Network (SCNN), a coalition of various agencies that work to ensure that harm reduction services like clean needles and safe crack kits are available to those who need them to reduce the negative health effects of drug use.

“A text to 204-679-5870 of the location of a found needle would be helpful,” says SCNN co-ordinator Sharon Cordell. “We do not have the capacity to come and pick up every needle found but if we could map the locations, we will be able to look at the current situation in Thompson.”

If someone is accidentally pricked by a discarded needle, they should allow the site to bleed to help flush germs away, then wash it with soap and water and go to the emergency room as soon as possible.

“There is no way to know how long a needle has been lying where you found it, so even though you are very unlikely to be infected by poking yourself, it is best to be safe,” says Almas. “Luckily, when viruses in needles are exposed to the air, the viruses usually die quickly.”

People who have been pricked by a needle  may be given vaccines for hepatitis  B and/or tetanus and blood testing may be offered to ensure no infections occurred. In some cases, a person poked by a needle may be given medication to help prevent HIV infection.

“This is rarely necessary because HIV dies outside the body within a few hours," Almas says.

Intravenous drug use in Thompson has not been common within the past five years. In 2017-18, 23 adult clients at the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba (AFM) in Thompson reported having injected drugs in the past year.

It is possible some needles could have come from free naloxone kits distributed to people who use opiates and may be at risk of an overdose, said AFM northern director Gisele de Meulles. Regardless of what a needle was used for, caution is recommended.

“People really need to be very careful especially in COVID times that they are placing these in the safe discard receptacles,” she said.

In one social media posting, a Thompson resident reported seeing needles by the Walmart, Safeway and Tim Hortons entrances. When they told a security guard about them, the guard didn’t pick it up in accordance with safe handling procedures, they said.

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