Durham County

‘Are We Safe?’: Discarded needles in Durham parks raise local man’s concern

This is the latest installment of “Are We Safe?” an occasional series looking at how well local government protects us from daily hazards and dangers. To submit concerns you would like us to investigate go to bit.ly/AreWeSafeNC

Aasim Inshirah has been monitoring two city parks and the surrounding area for signs of drug use for about six months and says, while he’s seen some improvement, there’s more to do.

Inshirah, who is retired, has lived on Dunston Avenue for 13 years. It runs along Hillside Park, which is between South Roxboro and Fayetteville streets.

The park, and Grant Park, about five blocks east of Hillside, were on his daily walk, so he started taking note of all the syringes and syringe caps he found along the way and picked up so they wouldn’t endanger children who play in the parks.

“I don’t go looking in the bushes,” Inshirah said. “I’m right on the walkway where children play.”

He also comes across foil and charred matter he says are signs of drug use, as well as condoms, which he says are signs of prostitution that could be connected with the drug use.

Needle drop box

A needle drop box in Hillside Park had been knocked down and was missing when Insirah started monitoring the park. The city has since replaced it. He has also asked the city for a drop box in Grant Park, but as of a couple of weeks ago there was not one there yet.

The city has also cut back some of the underbrush in areas of Hillside Park where he was finding signs of drug use most often.

Insirah has asked the city for a litter stick to help him clean up. For now, he is using a pair of pliers and a plastic bottle. He said he typically finds three to five syringes per trip.

Insirah finds fewer syringes than he did when he started looking, which he credits the city for. But he adds, “Even one needle could mean a hurt child.”

The primary potential risks associated with needle sticks are hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

While infections from accidental needle sticks outside a healrh care setting are rare, immediate follow-up care is important, health experts say. Children should also be taught never to touch needles and to report those they see in public places to a trusted adult.

In 2013, the Journal of Public Health reported that 16,677 cases of community acquired needle stick injuries were treated in emergency rooms in the United States from 2001–08, at a cost of nearly $10 million.

New neighbors

Jamie McClain, who grew up in the area, likes to use the newly renovated basketball court in Hillside Park. While he’s never seen intravenous drug use out in the open in the park, he has seen the needles and has seen people using crack cocaine on the benches while he’s shooting hoops.

McClain has seen new houses going up around the park on South Roxboro and public nuisance houses nearby be rehabilitated, and he hopes the new neighbors will demand the park be kept safe from drug use.

Insirah agreed, noting that gunshots that used to plague South Roxboro have quieted since the new houses went up.

“I think that the new residents are going to demand that officials make the park safe,” he said.

He also hopes the new residents will go to the park. “The park needs to be used,” Insirah said. “I think if it’s used it will get better.”

Part of the problem, Insirah said, is there is a drug house across the street from Hillside. The police watch it and sometimes make arrests, he said, but it keeps running. There are also residential areas along the park’s perimeter where he says he won’t set foot.

Durham Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Cynthia Booth said the department is aware of the problem of needles in some parks.

“We recognize that the syringes in our parks are a danger to those who are there to recreate,” she said.

Booth encouraged those who witness illegal activity to call 911.

In addition to Hillside and Grant parks, and W.D. Hill Recreation Center, which neighbors Hillside, needles have also been found at East Durham Park, Booth said. The department’s staff has been instructed to be on the lookout for needles during routine maintenance of the parks.

There is also a plan to clear sight lines at Hillside, Booth said.

Need exchanges

The N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition aims to make drug use safer – both for users and for the surrounding community, said Loftin Wilson, the coalition’s Durham representative, and the organization has begun weekly sweeps of Hillside to clean up syringes and other signs of drug use. Wilson also takes reports of needles by text at 919-370-0671.

The coalition operates needle exchange programs in North Carolina, including Durham and Raleigh. People who use injection drugs can turn in their used, “dirty” needles in exchange for unused, “clean” needles.

The exchange programs create a safer environment for the community, Wilson said.

The coalition also provides tips for safer injections on its website, nchrc.org, as well as HIV and Hepatitis C testing and treatment.

Several larger cities around the U.S. now offer or are planning safe spaces for shooting drugs. These spots are supervised and ready with the opioid overdose antidote naloxone. Such spots are illegal in North Carolina, but Wilson said they would go a long way to reducing waste from shooting up.

Local resources

The Durham County Department of Health has a fixed and mobile syringe exchange program at 414 E. Main St., Durham Katie Mallette is in charge at 919-560-7692 or kmallette@dconoc.gov To arrange a mobile exchange, call or text Dennis Hamlet at 919-323-5346

The N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition also operates a fixed and mobile peer-based needle exchange in Durham. Loftin Wilson in charge. Call or text 919-370-0671 or email loftinwilson@gmail.com. There is a mobile exchange on Wednesdays. Call or text for locations. There is a fixed-site exchange 3-6 p.m. Fridays at the Hayti Heritage Center (inside the office of Recovery Community of Durham), 804 Old Fayetteville St.

Orange County has a fixed syringe exchange program. There are branches at the Whitted Clinic at 300 W. Tyron St., Hillsborough and the Southern Clinic at 2501 Homestead Road, Chapel Hill. Lisa Lowe is in charge at 919-245-2403 (office), 919-475-2721 (mobile) or at llowe@orangecountync.gov

The N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition operates a fixed and mobile syringe exchange program serving Wake, Johnston and Wayne counties. The fixed-site is open from 12 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays at 4024 Barrett Drive, Suite 101, Raleigh. Nicole Reynolds and Jesse Bennett are in charge at 910-228-6090 or nreynolds@nchrc.org or jbennett.nchrc@gmail.com. For rural outreach outside of Raleigh call or text Tonya Combs at 919-642-3194.

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