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Updated 19 July 2017

What to do if you find drug syringes in public

Syringes left by drug users are turning up everywhere and could be dangerous if stepped on or handled by especially children.

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The United Nations World Drug Report of 2014 reveals that drug abuse remains a growing problem in South Africa with 7.1% of our population abusing narcotics of some kind.

People, often children, risk getting stuck by discarded needles, raising the prospect they could contract blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis or HIV or be exposed to remnants of heroin or other drugs.

Turning up in public places

Recently a six-year-old girl in California mistook a discarded syringe for a thermometer and put it in her mouth; fortunately she was unharmed. And even if adults or children don't get sick, they must endure an unsettling battery of tests to make sure they didn't catch anything.

Syringes left by drug users are increasingly turning up in public places like public bathrooms, dumping site and parks, and authorities (Manchester, New Hampshire, Health Department, USA) offer this advice if you or your children should encounter syringes:

Don't pick them up. You could get exposed to drugs or disease, or unwittingly dispose of them improperly.

Call someone to pick them up. Check with your local information hotline or health department, which can take care of it or direct you to people who can. However, according to a Health24 article, the risk of medical waste impacting the environment increases when financial resources are limited and facilities like incinerators aren't always available. 

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If you do it yourself, you're not advised to pick them up, but if you do, minimise any hand contact. Use sturdy gloves, disposable tongs, a shovel or dustpan, and put them in a puncture-proof container.

If you get stuck by a needle, don't panic. Don't suck the wound. Go to your doctor, an emergency room or an urgent care clinic for further guidance, as well as possible medical tests and immunisations.

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What to tell your kids? Show them what a syringe looks like and use age-appropriate language to describe why they should stay away from it. Tell them that if they spot any syringes they should tell an adult, who can then follow the steps described above.

Read more:

Medical waste

Drug abuse trends in SA

HIV and substance abuse

 
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