How can we alleviate the danger of finding medical sharps in our parks and support our at-risk community members? My classmates and I recently interviewed Dane Zahner of the HIV Alliance to ask these important questions for our Community Change and Leadership class at the University of Oregon.
We wanted to understand how we can support the expansion of needle drop sites and prevent medical waste ending up in our parks and in the Willamette River. We thought that by installing additional drop sites in the parks with unhoused communities, we could mitigate the need for neighborhood clean ups. However, with the ongoing sweeps, the camps are perpetually moving, making a permanent drop box untenable.
Zahner shared that in Vancouver, B.C., they’ve created a successful model of having wall mounted sharps containers in all business and restaurant bathrooms. Unlike outdoor drop boxes that cost $1,500, wall mount boxes are $15 to install. The affordability and ease of a safe collection site increases overall participation.
Harm reduction policies have a long history of supporting at-risk communities in effective ways by reducing exposure to Hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS and creating safe places for community members with addiction to seek assistance and recover without stigma. Harm reduction humanizes our at risk community members and is a benefit to our larger city by offering accessible drop sites.
Let’s solve the medical waste stream problem with evidence based models. In doing so, we will continue to show how effective Eugene can be.
Carly Boyer, Avery Johnson and Stella Augustine