Needle Crackdown on Pharmacies

Thousands of used needles found around the city of Boston could lead to a crackdown on the pharmacies that sell them.

A new proposal would require pharmacies to offer disposal units for needles and syringes or face a fine of $300 per day.

"This is the right thing for pharmacies to do. They're selling hypodermic needles to their customers. They need to be able to take them back," said Boston City Councilor At-Large Annissa Essaibi-George, who proposed the ordinance at a council meeting this week.

Last year, 20,000 needles were collected around the city, many of them inside needle and syringe disposal units located around Boston. However, there are only nine locations that offer them. According to Essaibi-George, her proposal would add nearly 100 new spots.

"This is a way we as a city can respond," she explained. "It's a scary feeling for a lot of parents and families across the city."

Currently, the city of Boston has a mobile 'sharps' team tasked with retrieving needles from city parks, neighborhoods and disposal locations. They initially started with two members, but received budgeting for two more due to demand.

"We probably respond to anywhere between 7-15 calls every day," said Sarah Mackin, director of the city's Harm Reduction Services.

While the state and city have increased efforts to address the opioid epidemic, Mackin said her staff have seen the problem only worsen in recent years.

"The scale of it is kind of overwhelming," she said, "It always somehow feels like we are behind the curve, and that can be really tough for those of us who are in the field."

Essaibi-George hopes her proposal makes it easier in the future.

"This is one way to alleviate some of the pressure that families are feeling when they go to play a ball game with their kids and have to survey the grass first for improperly disposed of needles," said Essaibi-George.

NBC Boston reached out to major pharmacies in the city, such as CVS and Walgreens, but we did not receive any comment.

A public hearing on the proposal will be scheduled for later this month.

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