Push for needle drop-off kiosks met with mixed emotions in the South End

Push for needle drop-off kiosks met with mixed emotions in the South End

BOSTON — Fourteen-thousand. That's how many discarded needles the city of Boston collects every week. Many of them found in parks and playgrounds. And a renewed push to install more places to drop off those dirty needles is being met with mixed emotion.

Families who frequent Titus Sparrow Park say if you would've asked them a year ago, they wouldn't have had much to say about discarded needles there. The playground is about a mile north of the area known as 'Methadone Mile.'

But after several recent reports of kids and parents locating needles in around the playground, the park is being eyed as one of several potential spots to put needle-disposal kiosks.

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"When I saw my first needle, I was freaking out," said Andy Brand, a board member for the Worcester Square Neighborhood Association.

It's a daily discovery that’s desensitized Brand. He says the potentially dangerous side effect of the opioid epidemic gripping the neighborhood has presented one way to measure the problem.

"October was the second highest for all of Boston, ever," Brand said. "And we were more than half of that."

Brand has been compiling monthly charts from discarded needle pickup requests submitted to 311. The spike in statistics, which he says he's illustrated, is one reason why he's not opposed to a pilot program that would install more drop-off kiosks for dirty needles across the South End.

"I literally watch people walk around and drop their trash," said Alexandra Patel, a neighbor. "They're not going to put their needle in a kiosk."

Patel's son plays at Titus Sparrow Park, one of the potential new kiosk locations being discussed. She worries that it's surrendering to the issue and putting families at risk.

"I don't have [the answer], but I wish I knew what the answer is," she said. "But there has to be something, cause it's not okay. They're in the sandbox and they’re all around."

There are already at least 13 needle drop off kiosks in public places across the city, and we're finding out that similar kiosks are now appearing in private buildings and businesses.

"If I could throw my needle away in a kiosk, maybe I'll do that and it's one less on the ground," Brand said.

Community leaders advocating for the South End pilot already secured funding from the mayor’s office earlier this year and for the specialized vendor required to safely empty the needles. The prospect of installing one at the park was initially set to be discussed at the Friends of Titus Sparrow Park meeting on Monday night, but that was postponed.