"This is a syringe, but it’s not going to look like this when you find it on the street,” Takali Omega said, holding up a sterile needle capped with an orange top.
"It's really, really important that you do not touch these things."
Omega is executive director of the Kootenai Recovery Community Center in downtown Coeur d'Alene, a center that was established to build a positive community for those who want to free themselves from or maintain a life without addiction or behavioral health issues.
Omega held training at the center last Friday to demonstrate the proper way to pick up used needles that a person may find on the ground in a public place or on the side of a road. He said he was motivated to host needle handling/disposal sessions and organize litter pick-ups because of the April 24 Press article, "Hypodermic epidemic," which discussed the disgust of a local nurse who has been finding needles during litter pick-ups along north Atlas and Ramsey roads.
"The article kind of hit me because I countless times have been in parks, just out on the grass in a park somewhere, and you end up finding a needle or two. I have kids, you know. They play in those parks," he said. “I understand the concept of that person going there and shooting up; it’s away from things. Same thing with being on the roadside — you sit in your car and you do it and you throw it out the window and you’re done. If you get pulled over and you have a dirty syringe, they test for whether there’s drugs in that syringe, and it’s the same thing as having a drug charge."
"People just don’t care,” said KRCC program coordinator Lisa Alberts. "And it’s sad."
Omega and Alberts agreed that it would be KRCC's duty to train community members to help clean up the dirty needle problem.
"A lot of us were IV drug users, so it’s kind of like making amends,” Omega said. "Some of us were the people who were throwing those things on the roadside."
During the 20-minute training, Omega demonstrated how volunteer crews will walk fingertip to fingertip, like a search and rescue team, to sweep the area for needles while picking up other trash. White rags will be dropped on syringes that are found, and the crew members with picker tools will safely pick up the needles and drop them into secure biohazard sharps containers donated to the center by Panhandle Health District.
Omega said it's extremely important to not touch any of the needles, as well as any aluminum cans that are found because they are often used as reciprocals for needles before they're thrown out.
"I was an IV drug user for a really long time, threw (the needles) out the window,” said Justin Button of Coeur d'Alene, who attended the training. "The depth of addiction, it's frightening … The dark places that it takes you to, it’s very abusive and very disgusting."
Nurse Tonee Trzcinski, who originally contacted The Press to spread awareness of the issue, has been going to pick up garbage in the problem areas near Highway 53. On Tuesday, she and two volunteers reported finding a hypodermic needle just 200 yards from Garwood Elementary School.
"If just a few little ones learn they can make a positive impact in this world and if we can make their walk home a little safer, then job well done," Trzcinski told The Press. "Just trying to make a difference for our kids."
KRCC will be holding another free hypodermic needle collection training this Friday at noon. KRCC is located at 405 N. Second St. A volunteer crew will be going out to pick up litter on Saturday.
Used needles can be disposed of at the Ramsey and Prairie transfer centers. They should be placed in heavy plastic containers with lids and labeled "used sharps."
Info: www.kootenaicenter.org or 208-932-8005