By Seth Daniel
When Mark Carrig takes his daily walk through the beautiful and ornate Chester Square, it usually includes scouring the grounds for discarded, used drug needles.
The contrast of a cascading fountains, well-appointed pathways and relaxing green spaces interspersed with graphic drug use, and evidence thereof, is played out in many of the South End’s parks.
For Carrig, it’s an exercise he’s been conducting for many years, and one that he hopes will one day not be necessary.
“We’re fortunate here in Chester Square because I’ve heard it’s worse in Hurley Blocks and at Blackstone/Franklin,” he said. “Still, I find about three or four needles a week on the one side I clean up every day. I call 3-1-1, and they respond and pick them up. I started that some time ago, and it was much worse. I’ve been doing it for five years and three or four a week is down from about 10 a week. However, I’m not the only one that helps out.”
It’s the same situation in Blackstone Square, and particularly in Franklin Square, where park advocates report routinely finding used needles in the grass and near park benches.
Discarded needles are something that Councilor Annissa Essaibi George has focused on this year as the chair of the Homelessness, Mental Health and Recovery Committee. Earlier this year, it was revealed that the city sharps team removed in excess of 20,000 discarded needles from the streets, parks and sidewalks of Boston. Many of those came in the South End.
This week, she filed an ordinance to hopefully help bring those numbers down by requiring that pharmacies who sell needles also act as a return location for them.
“One of the things I learned on my committee is we as a city picked up 20,000 inappropriately discarded syringes in the last year,” she said. “They were in our parks, our neighborhood streets and in open lots. It’s a challenge to deal with that kind of volume…One thing we learned is there are just two dozen sites where people could dispose of sharps, and only nine of those sites are free.”
Her proposal is to make pharmacies in Boston that sell syringes – which she supports – also have to accept returned syringes. Right now, she said there are only nine locations in the city that accept returned syringes for free, and her proposal would bring on 100 locations with one in every neighborhood.
“This would be a 10-fold increase with 100 locations and one in every neighborhood,” she said.
She said California has taken the lead on this idea, with several cities there already instituting the requirement. Baltimore is also looking at such an ordinance.
“We’re not sure what the pharmacies think about this yet, but we’re looking for input, and we hope they will partner with us,” she said. “This affects every neighborhood of Boston and touches residents in many different ways. We need (the pharmacies) to partner with us in this work.”
As for Carrig and others around the neighborhood, he’s willing to try anything, but not optimistic that those who are addicted will take the time to return their syringes to the pharmacy.
“It could have an effect for addicts who have a conscience or who are socially aware, but I suspect it’s not going to stop the needle problem,” he said. “In my experience, they use the syringe and then just drop it and move on. It’s worth a try though. At this point, anything is worth a try.”