Dirty needles littering public parks may sound like a relic of 1980s drug use and urban decay. But as America’s opioid crisis has worsened in recent years, governments are once again confronted with the problem. This time, however, the issue isn’t confined to big cities.

“It’s a visible reminder of what we’re facing,” says Jessica Grondin, who works in the city manager’s office in Portland, Maine.

Coming into contact with used needles left behind by drug users presents a public health hazard. It exposes people to illicit substances like heroin and fentanyl, and could put them at risk of contracting blood-borne illnesses like hepatitis C and HIV.

In Snohomish County, Wash., home to 25 percent of overdose deaths in the state, the public health department aimed to do something about the scourge of needles littering the community.

Last fall, officials rolled out needle clean-up kits, equipped with instructions, gloves, safety glasses, tongs, hand sanitizer and a container. Interested citizens can pick up the kits at the county health department and return them there for proper disposal.

The county offered 100 kits when it launched the program. They ran out in three days. Since then, the county has given out more than 700 kits, according to Heather Thomas, government affairs manager for the Snohomish Health District. It’s also adding sites where people can drop off the kits, like the waste department.

“It’s something we’d been hearing about anecdotally a lot. We have a higher burden of the problem, so we wanted to be proactive, particularly if people are already picking them up,” says Thomas.

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