Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

City agency reports increase in used syringes


A recent city report noted a spike in used syringes on the streets. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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San Francisco's struggle with discarded syringes on sidewalks, parking lots, and other locations continues, despite years of attempts to address the problem.

The controller's office issued a report recently that there was a 40 percent increase in calls of syringes to the 311 customer service line from July 2015 through June 2016. The reports hit "a total of 3,551 service requests after monthly reports reached an all-time high of 396 in May 2016. ... Internal counts of needles collected by public works 'Hot Spot' crews also increased nearly 40 percent according to the department, from roughly 16,000 to 22,300."

The paraphernalia discarded by intravenous drug users has long littered outdoor spaces. Many people over the years have blamed the city's syringe access efforts, where the devices can be obtained through nonprofits that are working to reduce HIV, hepatitis C, and other infections that can be spread through shared syringes. The city and the groups it works with have sought to make sure that syringes are discarded properly.

District 6, which includes the Tenderloin and South of Market neighborhoods, had more public service requests submitted to 311 than any other district, with 1,106 during the 2015 fiscal year and 1,653 the next year, a 49 percent increase.

Daniel Goad, 51, a homeless man who was camped out near Eighth and Bryant streets, which is in District 6, said he sees discarded syringes "Everywhere."

"I see them using them in front of the damn court," said Goad, referring to the nearby Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant Street.

"A lot of people just toss them 10 feet away. ... They're worried about getting in trouble with the police," he said.

Goad, who isn't an IV drug user, said there should be more disposal boxes in the area.

A map provided by the health department shows 11 sites where the receptacles have been placed. The closest ones to Goad were several blocks away.

Eileen Loughran, health program coordinator for the health department's Community Health Equity and Promotion branch, said the city's syringe disposal collaboration, which includes city officials and community partners, hopes to have more boxes in place in the coming months.

"I would like to say that they'll be in place by March 2017," Loughran said.

Exact locations haven't been determined, "but they will match the hot spots we know of that we get from 311" and other sources, Loughran said. That could include "a larger style kiosk" in the Civic Center area, South of Market, and "the Tenderloin is always under consideration," she said.

The primary challenges to placing more receptacles are "making sure that it's a good location, and that is key," Loughran said. "We want to just make sure that one, it's a hot spot, and two, drug users will use it."

She said increases in discarded syringes can't necessarily be tied to the growth of homeless tent encampments in recent years.

"That's completely anecdotal," Loughran said.

She said when people see used syringes, they should call 311. That ensures reports can be tracked.

"I go by 311 data to help me identify hotspots, and that helps us determine where to place boxes and where to put our resources as far as rapid response teams," who clean up syringes, Loughran said.

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