Nonprofit: Record 1 million dirty syringes collected statewide in 2016

Nonprofit: Record 1 million dirty syringes collected statewide in 2016
Updated: Feb. 13, 2017 at 8:00 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The CHOW project collected a record-breaking 1 million dirty syringes statewide in 2016.

That's up by 43,000 from the year before.

"It means that a million times that HIV or Hepatitis could have been spread that it wasn't. It means a million syringes that could be in the parks or on the street aren't," said Heather Lusk, executive director of the CHOW Project, which runs a one-for-one syringe exchange program.

"But it also means, unfortunately, that people are continuing to use needles."

Lusk said that historically, syringes have been used to inject opiates. But as those drugs have gotten harder to get, many users have switched to methamphetamine.

Instead of smoking it, she said, users are shooting it.

The nonprofit found that in 2015, about one third of clients injected the drug. Now, well over half admit to shooting up.

One reason for the switch is that it's cheaper.

"If they inject it instead of smoke it does last longer," Lusk said.

Meanwhile, Lusk said that the CHOW Project saw big increases in clients on the Neighbor Islands in 2016.

"Particularly on Maui and the Big Island, especially the east side of the Big Island," Lusk said. "We saw dramatic increases in both of those areas. They represent probably the bulk of the increase."

Statewide two-thirds of CHOW Project clients surveyed say they're homeless. The majority also suffer from mental health issues.

And many users said they do meth because it makes them feel more in control.

"Folks were concerned about getting their stuff stolen because they're homeless," Lusk said. "They wanted to stay awake and be more vigilant."

Lusk added that one of the CHOW Project's biggest struggles is when a client is ready to get clean it can take days to weeks to get someone into a treatment center because of a shortage of beds.

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