The city of Minneapolis is installing 10 syringe drop boxes in public areas through Nov. 18 to clean up dangerous litter and reduce needle-spread diseases.
The boxes have small holes to insert syringes to safely store injection supplies until the Industrial Hygiene Services Corporation, a professional biohazard company, empties them every week and reports the data to the city.
New York, Boston and San Francisco cut syringe litter in half using syringe drop boxes, according to a city news release.
The release states the program and servicing are funded by a grant from the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
Jeffrey A. Singer, MD, senior fellow of Health Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank, told The Center Square the drop box program aims to reduce blood-borne illnesses such as HIV and hepatitis.
The drop boxes allow an easy way to properly dispose needles so they aren’t re-used and don’t injure anyone disposing of the boxes, Singer said, adding other programs such as Syringe Exchange Programs (SEP) more effectively reduce blood-borne diseases of people actively using needles that are possibly contaminated.
SEPs replace used needles with clean needles and distribute Narcan, a drug that treats opioid overdoses, and test strips that show if drugs are adulterated with fentanyl.
“These are harm reduction measures that have been proven beyond any sort of controversy, to very effectively decrease the spread of HIV and hepatitis,” Singer said, adding that the sites are endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Health Association, and the Surgeon General.
SEPs are legal in Minnesota.
Critics argue these programs enable drug users, but Singer argued that addiction is a disease characterized by “compulsive use despite negative consequences.”
Singer compared banning SEPs that reduce harm to people with drug addictions to denying insulin to someone with diabetes who continually consumes a diet detrimental to that person’s health.
“That’s harm reduction,” Singer said, adding that it isn’t controversial among health providers.
Singer said this reduces public health dangers and fiscal costs because a majority of the people contracting blood-borne diseases tend to be Medicaid patients who end up being treated with taxpayer money.
“You’re not going to stop them from using, but you could prevent them from contracting HIV, hepatitis or prevent overdoses with naloxone,” Singer said.
The Research reported in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome injects new data bolstering SEPs in Philadelphia and Baltimore, which have allowed the program since the 1990s.
The research estimated SEPs averted 10,592 HIV diagnoses in Philadelphia and 1,891 diagnoses in Baltimore over a 10-year period.
Since most of the averted cases would have been treated by publicly funded healthcare, the research estimated an annual cost savings of $243.4 million for Philadelphia and $62.4 million for Baltimore.
“I’m not endorsing your lifestyle choices. In fact, I’m telling you not to [harm yourself],” Singer said. “But in the meantime, as long as you’re going to do it, then I’ll give you something that will make you less likely to harm yourself.”