The list of consequences stemming from the country’s rapidly worsening opioid crisis continues to grow. Opioid addiction and abuse is spilling out of the shadows of America’s most destitute communities, creating some pretty gnarly threats to public health and safety. From small manufacturing towns in New England to coastal California, communities hit by the opioid crisis are finding they have a new and serious threat on their hands.
“It’s Raining Needles:” How The Opioid Crisis Is Creating A Major Syringe Threat
The United States heavily criminalizes illegal opioid use. Yet addiction to opioids and the use of opioids is rapidly on the rise.
Many opioid users are victims of homelessness, which means they usually have to shoot up in public. Hoping to avoid the severe repercussions for possessing needles for drug use, users will often haphazardly discard their used syringes. Carelessness and indifference play a part, too.
The epidemic of opioid addiction, however, has dramatically increased the “pollution levels” of used syringes.
So much so, in fact, that more and more people are accidentally sticking themselves with the discarded needles. Children and young people, who play in public parks and beaches, are especially at risk of exposure.
In some places, the problem has become so severe that one proactive resident described the situation as “just raining needles everywhere we go.” That’s according to Ricky Morrison, who heads a cleanup effort along the banks of the Merrimack River in Lowell, Massachusetts.
Morrison’s sentiments echo those of other community advocates who say getting stuck by a used needle has become a “rite of passage” for local youngsters.
“It’s very depressing. Infuriating. It’s just gross,” said Gabrielle Korte, who helps clean up needles as part of the group Take Back Santa Cruz. They’ve found nearly 15,000 needles in four and a half years.
What’s Being Done To Reduce Used Needle Pollution?
And aside from local community efforts like those led by Morrison, not much is being done to combat the growing syringe threat.
According to NBC News, some experts believe increasing funding and access to drug rehabilitation and treatment programs will reduce use and cut down on syringe pollution.
Others are calling on states to implement free clean needle exchange programs.
These programs offer a “safe place” for addicts to use, while offering them information on treatment. Some studies show that needle exchange programs effectively reduce syringe pollution. But their overall effectiveness is still under debate.
Communities are still debating the best tactics to stem the rising tides of used needles. Used needles pose serious health hazards. They are vectors of blood-borne diseases, like HIV and Hepatitis.
Could Legalizing Cannabis Help To Reduce Needle Pollution?
Experts are still studying the causes behind the rapid uptick in heroin use, opioid addiction and overdose deaths. According to the Atlantic, several studies have linked hot spots in the opioid crisis to places with high unemployment. Joblessness, these studies suggest, might be contributing to higher rates of drug addiction.
Other theories suggest that the rise in the use of legal, prescription opioids for treating pain is also a major factor.
Many patients become easily addicted to prescription opioid painkillers. However, when they can no longer acquire their meds through a pharmacy, many turn to illicit means.
So what does weed have to do with all of this? Well, studies continue to emerge which reveal strong causal relationships between access to medical cannabis and reduced opioid issues.
In fact, that body of research has become so extensive, that the federal government had to admit as much on it’s own NIDA website.
Earlier this year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that “medical marijuana products may have a role in reducing the use of opioids needed to control pain.”
With even the feds admitting that access to medical cannabis may be an effective response to the opioid crisis, it’s only logical to suggest that less opioid addicts means less used needle pollution.