Dealing with discarded syringes in parks or along city streets, county roads and railroad tracks has always been part of the job for local police officers.
Using gloves, a steady hand and a sharps disposal kit or even a plastic soda or water bottle, an officer takes necessary precautions to dispose of such needles, which can be highly dangerous should someone stumble across one and wind up being stuck by it.
An outbreak of HIV and an increase in hepatitis C cases in southeastern Indiana, including Jackson County, has been attributed to drug users sharing needles. That outbreak also may be contributing to more syringes winding up in places where children, teens and others can find them, police said.
When a needle is found, it’s time to contact law enforcement or someone else who knows how to safely pick up and dispose of it.
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Police officers fall back on their training when responding to a report of a found syringe.
“The biggest thing is we pick them up by the tube itself or the body of it — never the sharp end or the plunger, because that’s where the fluids are likely to be,” Seymour Police Chief Bill Abbott said.
A decade ago, officers came across syringes maybe once a year, Abbott said.
“Now, finding a syringe is fairly common,” he said. “It’s unfortunate as a society we have come to that level.”
So far this year, police have made 16 arrests for illegal possession of a syringe, according to a report from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.
Sheriff Michael Carothers said he’s trying to make sure his officers are more aware of the issue right now.
“But we are not doing anything different,” he said. “We glove up, and we are always observing for sharps and those kinds of things on others.”
The same goes for jail staff, who also rely on gloves when they come in direct contact with inmates.
Abbott said protecting one’s self from drug paraphernalia is a habit law enforcement officers develop over time.
“You deal with it so much it becomes everyday habit,” he said.
Both Carothers and Abbott said if someone finds a syringe, not to touch it and to immediately call the police.
“We’ll have an officer come out and put it in a plastic case and dispose of it properly,” Carothers said.
Seymour Detective Sgt. Greg O’Brien said he emptied a small trash container at the beginning of the year filled with needles confiscated by police or found by the public.
That container was full again earlier this week.
The needles are taken to Schneck Medical Center in Seymour for disposal.
A week ago, the Jackson County Health Department confirmed more than 50 cases of hepatitis C in the area, and local health workers said there are likely many more.
That increase is being attributed to the ongoing HIV outbreak in southeast Indiana — particularly in the small town of Austin in Scott County — including Jackson, Clark, Perry and Washington counties. It’s linked to people sharing needles, specifically for injecting Opana, a pain medication.
A jump in heroin use and other drugs that can be crushed, cooked and drawn through a needle such as methamphetamine also are to blame, Abbott said.
The outbreak has caused many people to seek free HIV testing, which has led to more hepatitis C being diagnosed, too, said Lin Montgomery, public health coordinator with the Jackson County Health Department.
Hepatitis C is a serious infection caused by a virus that attacks the liver, leading to inflammation. There is no cure, and it often can result in cirrhosis or scarring of the liver or liver cancer.
The infection, which often has no symptoms, is contagious and can be spread through sharing needles to inject drugs or for tattoos or piercing. It also can be spread through being accidentally stuck by a needle contaminated with infected blood, incidents seen mainly in health care and law enforcement jobs.
With the current HIV outbreak, state health officials reported last week there were 74 confirmed HIV positive tests and seven preliminary cases related to the outbreak.
Gov. Mike Pence issued an executive order declaring a public health emergency in Scott County and authorized a short-term needle-exchange program there.
It is estimated that an injection drug user shoots up about 1,000 times a year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Syringe exchange programs provide a way for those users to safely dispose of used syringes and to obtain sterile ones at no cost to help stop the spread of diseases.
Why do drug users turn to injecting drugs by needle? Abbott said it can enhance the “high” feeling for a drug user.
“Drug users get such an immediate high from shooting up, and they start to need that drug and that immediate satisfaction,” he said.
The used syringes often are left wherever the user shot up last.
Abbott said that even with precautions taken by officers at least two officers were stuck by needles in the past couple of years. One was from a needle found on another person, and the other was when the tip of a needle protruded through its cap.
If officers are stuck by a needle, they are sent to the hospital to be checked out and tested for HIV and hepatitis C, Abbott said.
For residents who use needles and syringes legally for medical purposes, there is a sharps disposal program available through the Jackson County Health Department and the Jackson County Solid Waste Management District.
Sharps disposal containers can be picked up and returned at the health department, 801 W. Second St. in Seymour, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.
People who inject drugs are at high risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis C.
This is because these diseases are transmitted through contact with blood or other bodily fluids, which can occur when sharing needles or other injection drug use equipment.
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse
If you find a needle, don’t touch it. Call the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department at 812-358-2141 or Seymour Police Department at 812-522-1234.