Councilor Annissa Essaibi George (middle) at the inaugural Needle Take Back Day event.
On Thursday, April 25, nearly 30 community health care organizations and centers across Boston banded together for the city’s inaugural Needle Take Back Day. The event, promoted by City Councilor At-Large, Annissa Essaibi-George, is part of her continuing objective to increase the number of safe sharp collection locations throughout Boston. Participants included the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Services, Grayken Center for Addiction at the Boston Medical Center, Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, and several more. The locations opened their doors to any and all needing to dispose of sharps, no questions asked.
In 2017, Essaibi-George, who is Chair of the Committee on Homelessness, Mental Health, and Recovery and the Committee on Education, filed an Ordinance Providing for the Safe Disposal of Sharps citing that over 20,000 unsafely disposed of sharps had been collected by the City of Boston in 2016. There are currently only 12 safe-disposal locations in Boston, making proper disposal inaccessible to many residents. The Sharps Ordinance would increase that number to 100 by requiring pharmacies to have needle take-back kiosks as they have for medications.
“Pharmacies are a place where people go to pick up their prescriptions, pharmacies are also places where people go to buy needles, to buy their sharps, to buy hypodermic needles, so for me, as pharmacies have recognized for them to have take back kiosks for drugs, they also need to have take back kiosks for sharps and needles,” said Essaibi-George while visiting Fenway Community Health Center in Boston.
Beginning in the 1970s, Fenway Health began as a “safe place” for members of the LGBTQ community to receive health care. The center provided anonymous STD and HIV testing to the community under the belief that “Healthcare is a Right, Not a Privilege.” Fenway Health has been and continues to be a large promoter of safe sharps disposal, most recently with launching their Needle Exchange and Overdose Prevention Program.
Councilor Essaibi-George is acutely aware of how many people view needle disposal, and the shame and antagonism surrounding the culture. For this reason, many who are using sharps for prescribed medical uses and addiction disorders alike find it complicated and costly, if not impossible, to safely dispose.
“Even in a coffee can, even in a detergent bottle, they do not belong in household trash. So today is about creating greater awareness for proper disposal, but also creating a different atmosphere when we talk about sharps and when we talk about needles because there is also this stigma that goes along with disposing of sharps and disposing of them properly,” explained Essaibi-George. “It’s a public safety issue but it’s also a hazardous waste management issue,” she continued. “If you think about the needles that we unfortunately find in our streets and across our neighborhoods, we’ve heard most recently about needles being found in school playgrounds.” An example being that in just March of 2019, two young girls from Arlington were taken to the hospital after they were both stuck with a used syringe while playing in front of Gibbs Middle School.
When asked how she would respond to those who believe that safe sharps disposal will only lead to additional recreational drug use, Essaibi-George said “Having safe needle disposal is going to promote safe needle disposal, quite simply. And it is a conversation that we need to have because too many people think that it is appropriate to throw their needles in their household trash.”
She noted that safe disposal is often thought of a promotion of misuse as opposed to public harm reduction. “[This is] how we get to a goal of creating safe opportunities and proper opportunities for our residents across our city, regardless of why, [people] have an opportunity to dispose of their needles properly,” she said. “This is the right way to do it.”