Oahu sees surge of dirty needles in public parks

City: More dirty syringes being found in Oahu parks
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Dirty syringes are being found in more parks across Oahu, and a local nonprofit is blaming the spike on the city's homeless sweeps.

City officials confirm that since the city increased homeless sweeps, hypodermic needles have been found in more areas. Workers have found syringes at more than 30 parks, bike paths and sidewalks from Makaha to Waimanalo.

Syringes are most commonly found from McCully to Kapahulu, the city said.

That's not the only alarming trend that workers with the Community Health Outreach Work (CHOW) Project are seeing.

The nonprofit runs for a one-for-one syringe exchange program, accepting used syringes and giving out new ones in a way to reduce the transmission of HIV and hepatitis, and is reporting a big uptick in the number of syringes turned in.

Over the past three months, workers from the CHOW Project have collected 123,000 dirty syringes on Oahu. That's up by more than 10,000, compared to the same period last year.

On a recent morning, a CHOW van is parked at the corner of River Street and Vineyard Boulevard, and workers are accepting used syringes. The van will see almost 40 people a day.

"Just throw your needles in there," CHOW Project worker Kalani Napihaa tells a visitor to the van.

Last year, the CHOW Project exchanged just under 1 million needles. About half of the people who come to the needle exchange shoot methamphetamine, the nonprofit said.

A man who stopped by the van said he exchanges needles every other day. Until about a year ago he says he'd only smoked meth. Then, an old girlfriend convinced him to shoot it.

"Once you do it that way, that's the only way that will get you to that one level that you need to get to," he said. "I kind of regret getting into it already, you know? You're in it so far. There's no where else really. No other state of mind. Just wanting to get high."

Homeless make up the majority of the CHOW Project's clientele, workers said.

The nonprofit is also seeing more young people.

And the city's sweeps, the nonprofit says, are making it harder to find those in need of help.

"Not only have they put them in places they wouldn't normally be, they often either lose their stuff or it gets swept up," Lusk said.

Lusk says reports of people finding dirty syringes used to come from a few isolated areas like Chinatown, Kakaako and Stadium Park.  Now the agency gets calls from all over.

"Because of people getting moved they're afraid to take it with them. They're afraid they might get in trouble.  So they might hide it some place to go back later and obviously that's not safe," said Heather Lusk, executive director of the CHOW Project.

Back at the van, more than 1,000 syringes have been dropped off in about an hour.

See a map of where syringes have been found here.

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