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août 9, 2017

I was at the park with my kids the other day, and I came across a needle on the ground. How do I properly dispose of something like this?



One of my technicians discovered a needle next to a field behind a local elementary school recently. As we discussed the situation, it occurred to me that I have never spoken to my children, who are 10 and 7, about needles that may be used for drug abuse, what they look like, why they are dangerous, and what actions should they take if they encounter one. I also learned through conversations at the pharmacy that it is not uncommon for people to stumble upon needles in various parks and parking lots throughout the city. This column will outline what you should do if you encounter a used needle.

A number of street drugs can be administered via a hypodermic syringe (commonly referred to as a needle) intravenously (IV). This method administers the drug directly into the blood stream to achieve a faster and more pronounced effect of the drug being abused. Crack cocaine, methamphetamines and opiates (hydromorphone or heroin for example) are some examples of drugs that are abused intravenously in our province. 

One of the primary public health concerns regarding IV drug use is the spread of blood-borne pathogens that individuals suffering from addiction may have. Studies in Canada have suggested that 11 per cent of IV drug users in our country are living with HIV and 68 per cent are living with hepatitis C. If an individual infected by one of these diseases shares a needle with someone who isn’t infected, the disease can be easily spread as blood is commonly left behind in the needle following an injection. Unfortunately, the same can happen to someone who accidentally pokes himself/herself with a needle that was used previously by an infected individual. 

If you find a discarded needle, you can choose to dispose of it yourself or you can call for help such as the local police force. If doing it yourself, it is best to use a pair of tongs, pliers or tweezers to pick up the needle and to keep the tip pointing down and away from you. Sometimes the needle’s cap is found nearby; never try to recap the needle as this increases the chance of an accidental poke. Place the needle into an appropriate container that can be closed. A sharps container is ideal but a bleach or laundry detergent container will also do the trick. It is not recommended to use a glass jar, light plastic container (pop bottle for example) or milk carton as they could break or needles could poke through those. The container can then be brought to an acceptable location with a sharps disposal service. Some pharmacies accommodate this. AIDS Saint John is happy to help in this community. Wearing rubber gloves and washing hands immediately after handling is recommended if possible.

If you do get accidentally poked by a needle, it is recommended that you immediately wash the area with soap and water and go to the hospital emergency department.

It is not unusual for used needles to be discovered in areas where children may play. It is important to talk to your kids about what these needles may look like and what they should do if they encounter one. Most importantly, children should not attempt to dispose of one themselves, but should find a responsible adult immediately to help.

Ryan Kennedy (BSc., Doctorate of Pharmacy, MBA) is a pharmacist/owner at Jean Coutu in Saint John. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to