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How can we best combat hypodermic needle pollution in Santa Cruz read more

How can we best combat hypodermic needle pollution in Santa Cruz


  1. Create proposals to address hypodermic needle pollution
  2. Evaluate the Effectiveness of Needle Exchange Programs
  3. Refine the public process for administering needles
  4. Maintain public health

Needle Pollution

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Over the past few years there has been a marked increase in the amount of hypodermic needle pollution in Santa Cruz County. In 2012 the Santa Cruz Police Department found 358 syringes within the over 200 homeless camps they searched. Dirty needles are commonly found on the streets, in parks, and on the beaches of the local community. The used syringes can carry HIV or Hepatitis C and represent a public health hazard. At a recent Santa Cruz city council meeting on March 12, vocal citizens demanded changes in hopes of remedying the local plight of hypodermic needle pollution.

Needle Exchange

Needle exchanges have the primary focus of reducing the spread of harmful diseases associated with intravenous drug use. Needle-exchange programmes are supported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH). The NIH estimates that in the United States, between fifteen and twenty percent of injection drug users have HIV and at least seventy percent have hepatitis C. The exchanges are designed to work on a strict one to one basis, taking one dirty needle off the street in exchange for one clean needle. Last year roughly 240,000 needles were safely exchanged in Santa Cruz County alone.

The primary needle exchange operating in Santa Cruz is Street Outreach Supporters, a voluntary grant-funded non-profit. Street Outreach Supporters offer a mobile needle exchange service and are currently operating a needle exchange out of the Emeline County Public Health Complex.

Local Pharmacies and Safe Disposal

Pharmacies in Santa Cruz County make available approximately 16% of the non-prescription syringes (roughly 65,000). Santa Cruz County has a free sharps container disposal program, which provides syringe users a means to properly dispose of used needles. The majority of pharmacies within the county are not members of this free opt-in program.

Hypodermic needles are usually sold in packs of ten, and recently some pharmacies have forced potential customers to show proof that they have a legitimate medical reason for the needles. Most of the needles sold are designed to administer insulin and there are roughly 18,000 diabetics in Santa Cruz County.

Santa Cruz used to have multiple permanent syringe drop boxes located in public restrooms, but because they were so heavily used they would often have to be emptied up to three times a week. Only two of these drop box locations remain and the rest have since disappeared due to vandalism and theft.

Links to Crime

Many intravenous drug users admit to quickly discarding used needles after spotting police officers. These needles could have otherwise been properly disposed of, but due to fear of prosecution for drug paraphernalia became pollution instead.

The multitude of programs aimed at increasing safe drug use within the Santa Cruz community may have the adverse effect of creating a local attitude more permissive toward drugs.

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  • Public Health Officer
    County of Santa Cruz
  • Susan Brutschy
    President, Applied Survey Research