Millions of free syringes are handed out annually to drug users in San Francisco, and nearly half of those dirty needles end up littering the city's streets, sidewalks, and parks.
Mayor Mark Farrell announced plans to hire 10 additional people whose jobs will be cleaning up syringes from public spaces starting in June. Currently, the sanitation department has four dedicated to the effort, KPIX-TV reported.
“The status quo on our streets today is simply unacceptable, and we’re not going to stand for it,” Farrell said when he unveiled his new needle cleanup team.
Why are free needles handed out?
The city's needle exchange program, which started in 1993, passes out 400,000 syringes each month, but only about 246,000 wind up in the city's 13 syringe access and disposal sites.
Director of Public Health Barbara Garcia said the program's goal was “to eliminate the transmission of blood-borne pathogens among people who inject drugs and their sexual partners.”
The program appears to have reduced the number of HIV infections among those who inject drugs, according to the health department.
Last year, the city fielded nearly 10,000 requests for needle cleanup. This year, it's already received more than 3,700 calls, according to the San Francisco Gate.
What do business owners say?
Business owners are fed up.
"It's still not addressing the real issue which is that people are living on the street, they're leaving their needle, and they're defecating and urinating everywhere," business owner Tamara Freedman told KPIX-TV.
Will the needle program be stopped?
But the health department has no plans of discontinuing the free needle program.
“There are no changes to our syringe access programs,” Garcia told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Research shows that reducing access to clean syringes increases disease and does not improve the problem of needle litter."
"Syringe access is part of a bigger picture,” she said.