SF steps up efforts to remove used syringes

San Francisco city officials say they are stepping up efforts to get discarded syringes off city streets, particularly in the Civic Center and United Nations Plaza areas.

In response to increased complaints, the Department of Public Health this week said it is creating a rapid response team to act on reports of syringe litter citywide.

In addition, the city has begun coordinating and tracking syringe cleanup efforts already being conducted by a number of organizations in the Civic Center and UN Plaza area, including nonprofits and business groups, the San Francisco Main Library, public works, the Heart of the City Farmers Market and the Asian Art Museum.

The group, referred to as the Syringe Disposal Collaborative, shared data from September to November 2015 within the Civic Center area and found its members had together collected 4,829 discarded syringes in September, 2,964 in October and 1,785 in November, officials said.

While not a scientific survey, the data is a “great starting point for further discussion and collaboration,” according to Tracey Packer, director of Community Health Equity and Promotion for the Department of Public Health.

“All of the organizations involved are enthusiastic and deeply committed to improving the state of syringe disposal in our community,” Packer said.

The group plans to continue to track syringe collection efforts, using the data to coordinate and expand their cleanup work and determine where more disposal sites and other resources might be needed.

The data will also help city officials determine whether the number of discarded syringes is changing over time, according to health department spokeswoman Rachael Kagan. Health department figures indicate there has been an increase in the number of injecting drug users in the city in recent years, from 15,000 in 2007 to 22,000 in 2015.

In addition, homeless outreach staff working at the Main Library and other sites will be given supplies for safe syringe disposal.

There are currently 10 24-hour disposal boxes around the city, including eight around the Civic Center and Tenderloin areas. In addition, syringe access programs and Walgreens stores throughout the city offer disposal sites and homeless outreach workers provide disposal information and bins for use at encampments, officials said.