MOSES LAKE — With the police department’s blessing, the Grant County Health District soon hopes to install the first needle drop box in Moses Lake pending city approval, Chief Kevin Fuhr told the Moses Lake City Council Tuesday evening.
While Neppel Park was floated as a possible site for the box, a location has not been finalized. Though a majority of city council members appeared Tuesday to support the project, no decision was made.
An increasingly common feature of municipalities across the country amid the opioid crisis, sharps disposal boxes allow drug users or legal users of syringes (such as people with diabetes) to deposit a used needle safely into a locked metal box until it can be properly disposed of by qualified staff.
But no such disposal boxes currently exist in the city, Fuhr said Tuesday. Instead, Fuhr said, needle users are currently asked to deposit their needles in soda bottles and cap the bottles before throwing them in the trash, to prevent anyone from accidentally being punctured by a needle, which could transmit diseases such as HIV.
Needles are not always disposed of in this way, however. City police have been called 16 times to collect and dispose of needles found in public spaces since the beginning of 2019, according to information collected by the Herald from police logs and the MLPD records department.
While representatives of Samaritan Hospital are quick to note that it is practically unheard-of for a pedestrian to be stuck with a stray needle on Moses Lake streets, improperly disposed-of needles can still pose a risk for workers removing trash bags. In mid-March, for instance, staff at the Moses Lake library called police after discovering a used needle that had been thrown directly into a bathroom trash can.
A proper needle drop box could help further remove the presence of needles from the community, Fuhr said. Further, Fuhr proposed that the receptacle could be modified from a utilitarian metal box to a decorative piece that could more readily blend into recreational areas.
Though five city council members expressed some level of support for the project, Mayor Karen Liebrecht and Council Member Daryl Jackson raised concerns.
Liebrecht requested that Fuhr present more data about the effect the drop box would have in lowering the number of needles disposed of improperly in public spaces.
“The people who should be utilizing (the disposal boxes) are less responsible about where they’re putting things,” Liebrecht said. “People who are diabetic, who use insulin, they’re a little more responsible about what they do with their sharps in my opinion.”
Jackson raised more philosophical qualms, questioning the ability of the city to get ahead of the wider drug epidemic.
“It seems like the more we do, the larger the problem gets,” Jackson said.