To determine the need for safe collection and disposal of medical sharps, the Cherokee County Health Services Council has joined a six-month program developed by Product Stewardship Institute and Oklahoma Meds and Sharps Disposal Committee to protect and improve public health.
Sharps that are improperly disposed are a hazard to public safety, and a danger to sanitation workers, sewage treatment plant operators and waste management personnel. Keima Borsuah, Oklahoma State University Extension assistant state specialist with the Solid Waste Management Program, said the project is vital because it demonstrates proper waste disposal.
"It's estimated more than 108,000 Oklahomans use sharps to manage medical conditions like diabetes, which generates more than 20 million needles per year," Borsuah said. "Most are simply thrown in the trash or flushed."
Beyond public health concerns, it can be expensive for diabetics to properly dispose of their sharps supplies. Some patients will stockpile their needles, syringes and lancets.
"I've heard stories of shoebox collections of sharps, just because they don't know how to get rid of them," said CCHSC activities Coordinator Marcus Buchanan, who has been searching around the area on the first Saturday of the month to look for sharps. "This is a grant-drive program through Produce Stewardship Institute, and it's more of a data collection to see how big the need really is. Community members will let us know where they see them."
It's not uncommon for people to stumble across a syringe or needle around Tahlequah. During annual cleanup events held by community partners, they're often found as people inspect the area, looking for trash and debris to pick up.
Tahlequah Police Department Chief Nate King said discarded sharps are not a huge problem for his officers, but those items are regularly found throughout the city.
"We usually hear about them the most in the parks, because that's the public areas," he said. "People will find them and they'll tell us. The parks are probably the most predominant place that they're found."
The CCHSC is seeking public input to determine problem areas where needles and syringes are found. Buchanan recently received a report that it's an issue near Cherokee Elementary School, but he said they didn't find a lot, except for some drug paraphernalia, which they disposed of.
"Another public concern that we've heard is finding needles in parks, along the trails and throughout the community, from intravenous drug users not disposing of them properly," he said. "Anyone can let us know. We want to get it picked up as quickly as possible, but we're also hoping to run into the individuals who are leaving them, because we also do recovery and prevention work. So just starting a conversation with them is huge."
Anyone can properly dispose of sharps supplies at the Cherokee County Health Services Council, at 135 N. Muskogee Ave. The CCHSC also has red sharps containers people can pick up and bring back once they are full. Individuals are also encouraged to contact the organization at 918-506-4058 to report an area where discarded sharps may be an issue.
"I depend on the public to let me know where they're finding them at," Buchanan said. "I'm not sure how big the need is just yet, but that's what this six-month program is going to show us."