Doug Monroe says his sympathy for those struggling with opioid addiction only goes so far.
It stops in his backyard, where his 4-year-old stepson was pricked by a used hypodermic needle while playing outside this week in a common area within the Crestmont neighborhood.
“It’s a tragedy. There’s the potential for him to have something life threatening,” Monroe said this week at his home within the public housing neighborhood on the city’s northwest side. “I think the epidemic is really growing in this town. It’s spreading like wildfire.”
The risk of infection with viruses such HIV and hepatitis C from a needle stick is low, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a 1 in 300 chance of contracting the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS, and a 5.4 in 300 chance of contracting hepatitis C. But that’s little comfort to a parent who no longer feels safe letting his child play outside, and in his own yard.
The CDC reports that accidental needle sticks are rare, even in places with needle exchange programs such as Monroe County, which has operated a program for nearly two years to help address the opioid crisis. Needle exchange programs provide free, sterile syringes intended for one-time use to people who inject drugs such as heroin or other opioids.
Participants in needle exchanges are educated on how to safely dispose of those needles and provided with information about drug treatment programs and referrals to local nonprofits for emergency food, housing and other resources. In return, research shows, needle exchange participants are more likely to seek addiction treatment, and rates of infection and medical complications due to sharing used needles decrease.
Chris Abert, one of the founders of the Indiana Recovery Alliance, the Bloomington-based nonprofit that runs Monroe County’s needle exchange, estimates that between 1,500 and 1,600 people use the needle exchange’s services.
“Overall, the program has been a resounding success,” Abert said.
So why are people still finding used needles in the streets and in their yards?