October 22, 2021

Needle disposal drop-off locations considered

Cortland County health and police officials may create three needle drop-off locations to reduce the number of needles found in public spaces like parks and bathrooms and being flushed down drains.

“It’s worth a shot,” said Paul Sandy, the Cortland deputy police chief. “A centralized drop box may be a step in the right direction, but then again, you have to get these people to do it.”

Sandy said needles end up in the parks and restaurant bathrooms.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase over the years and that’s why we’re not in favor of the needle exchange program,” he said.

The state’s needles exchange program allows qualified organizations, such as ACR Health in Syracuse, to give people up to 600 syringes, then collect syringes at the person’s next visit, according to the state Health Department. It doesn’t take measures against people who don’t return them. Participants under 18 are assessed to monitor the duration and frequency of needle use and whether they have been to drug treatment. The idea is to prevent blood-borne diseases, including HIV and hepatitis.

Sandy said he is willing to see if a drop box at city hall — possibly in the police department — will decrease the number of used needles on the streets that could potentially get into kids’ hands. He said that the decision will be made by Cortland Common Council, noting discussions with Mayor Brian Tobin are in the early stages.

Some legislators on the county Health and Human Services Committee backed the idea last week after being approached by county Health Director Catherine Feuerherm, who asked Thursday to place one at the County Office Building.

“We want legislator support should we move forward with such a concept — get the needles off the street,” she said.

Feuerherm said the drop boxes would be similar to ones used for prescription drugs, which are located in the police departments and a number of other places in the county.

“I will tell you from working on Main Street and having to go through the alley next to The Daily Grind there was not a single day that one of our staff members wasn’t calling CPD (Cortland Police Department) for one, two — one day there were 15 used needles there,” said Legislator Ann Homer (D- Cortland). “We’ve got to have a safer place for them to dispose of them.”

However, committee Chairman Ron VanDee (D-Cortland) said having the disposal site could promote the idea of using drugs, noting it goes hand-in-hand with the state’s needle exchange program.

“I wonder if we’re promoting something we should be trying to stop,” VanDee said.

Homer said the disposal units and needle exchanges are two separate things.

Feuerherm said state law cannot be changed by the county regarding the needle exchange program, but something can be done to keep them out of public areas.

“We have no control, it is what it is,” she said. “They’re available, they’re accessible and we want to work collaboratively to get them out of the parks and off the streets.”

Homer Village Police Chief Robert Pitman said he plans to to approach the Homer Village Board about having one in his department.

“It’s not as bad as Cortland, but we’ve recovered them throughout various areas of Homer,” he said.

The problem came to light after police and other village officials found needles that had been clogging up the sewer pipes.

Homer told Feuerherm she had to approach the Buildings and Grounds Committee with the idea of putting one at the County Office Building.

“It is simply recognizing the reality of the world that we are living in and reducing a health risk to children and others that may not know exactly what they’re encountering,” said Legislator Michael Barylski (D-Cortlandville). “I think it’s appropriate and we should move with full speed ahead and do whatever we need to do to make it happen.”