By Ari Bird

In December 2006, the Public Works and the Health Services Agency proposed providing disposal containers free of charge to Santa Cruz patients who inject medicine at home.

When residents discard their medical waste and syringes in trashcans, many individuals face risk for disease and infection. The trash collector, recycling center worker, or even a curious neighborhood kid could get pricked.

However, residents still continue this dangerous practice because the proper means of disposal are expensive or unavailable. This type of waste should be discarded in either a mail-in disposal kit or a sharps container, a method doctors utilize to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases.

Jeffery Smedberg, recycling program coordinator, said, “People at home have not had that opportunity [to gain access to sharps containers].”

While he advised individuals not to recycle used syringes due to obvious health concerns, Smedberg added that throwing them in the garbage is risky as well. Even if the needle makes it poke-free to the landfill, waste is then compacted by machines and sharp objects inevitably poke out of the garbage, posing a threat to workers sifting through the trash.

The proposal has been implemented at four local pharmacies: Bruce’s Pharmacy, Horsnyder, Valle Verde Pharmacy, and Woodside Pharmacy.

These pharmacies plan to create needle drop-off sites, make sharps containers more accessible to consumers, and distribute informational handouts.

Richard Arriola, the manager of Bruce’s Pharmacy, values the societal benefits of safe syringe disposal and public education.

“This has historically been the role of the independent pharmacy: to serve the community,” Arriola said.

The proposal will also help the city adhere to a law that will ban the disposal of household waste in landfills. The law will come into effect September 1, 2008.

Though disposing used syringes in the garbage is currently legal, Smedberg commented, “We don’t want to wait around that long [for change].”

Larger chain pharmacies such as Longs Drugs and Walgreens refused to accept sharps containers from the public. Longs pharmacy denied an interview addressing reasons for not adopting this policy.

Harm Reduction Program Supervisor Patrick Stonehouse commented, “[These chain pharmacies] more than likely don’t want the hassle.”

Though participating local pharmacies will collect sharps containers used only for medical purposes, the benefits of the controversial Santa Cruz Drop-In Center are evident in the Santa Cruz community.

The Santa Cruz Needle Exchange Program (SCNEP), operated through the Drop-In Center, allows clients to exchange used hypodermic needles for clean ones, regardless of whether or not they are using the syringes to inject illegal drugs.

Stonehouse said the Drop-In Center also offers other services. The Center helps reduce the rate of Hepatitis-C and other blood-born diseases, gives clients information on preventing overdoses, and helps find housing and health plans for people who need them. Most importantly, the program provides a net of advocacy.

Stonehouse concluded, “[There is] a sense of community for people who would normally not have it.”