ITHACA, N.Y. — If you live in Ithaca, you have definitely seen or had to deal with finding a used hypodermic needle.

According to local officials, the public can call the Ithaca Police Department or Southern Tier AIDS Program to collect discarded syringes. But both organizations said they cannot guaranteed an immediate response time.

People are also able to take syringes to a drop-off kiosk, or to a nursing home or hospital during designated hours. But possessing a hypodermic needle without a prescription is a misdemeanor in the state of New York.

So what do you do if you find one?

Call the police

Ithaca Police officers are trained to safely pick up used hypodermic needles.

Officer Jamie Williamson said, “Yes, you can call the dispatch center and they would make the notification to police department.”

Williamson said an officer will respond as fast as possible, but warned that on busier days with multiple car crashes, fires, disturbances or other pressing issues in the city, he cannot guarantee that an officer will be able to immediately respond to get the syringe.

“It’s a problem that law enforcement faces, with so many other issues,” he said.

The Tompkins County Dispatch Center can be reached at 607-273-7288. Do not call 911 unless you are experiencing an emergency. 

Call the Southern Tier AIDS Program

The Southern Tier AIDS program, in addition to having people trained to pick up syringes, has occasional patrols in areas where needles are frequently discarded.

“We can certainly, if we have staff available, send them out as soon as possible,” said Lillian Fan, assistant director of prevention services – harm reduction at STAP. She said response time might depend on factors such as the day and time the call is received and the availability of staff on hand.

She said that even if people decide to take care of discarded syringes themselves, they can still report the location of the needle to STAP.

“The information is always helpful so we know which areas we should be keeping an eye on.”

STAP can be reached at 607-272-4098

At your own risk and discretion, take the syringe to a nursing home, hospital or drop-off kiosk. 

First and foremost, neither the Ithaca Police Department or Southern Tier AIDS program recommends for the public to collect discarded syringess.

“If you get right down to it, it’s illegal to posses a hypodermic needle without a prescription from a doctor,” Williamson said. “There is no viable way to guarantee that your not going to get arrested (for possessing a needle.)”

But both organizations recognize that waiting, sometimes more than a day, for somebody to pick up a used syringe isn’t practical in every situation. For instance, if the syringe is in an area where children frequently play, it might need immediate attention that IPD and STAP might not be able to help with.

“Officers are encouraged to exercise good judgement. They have discretion,” Williamson said. He recommended that anyone who decides to take care of discarded syringe themselves take it directly to an appropriate drop-off area.

“As much as practical, take the most direct route. Please don’t store it in the vehicle while you do your shopping and then go to the post office…please just go directly there,” he said. In addition to that being easier for a police officer to fact-check, Williamson said it decreases the possibility of mistakenly transmitting blood-borne pathogens.

  • Keep as much distance as possible between you and the syringe by using a standing dust pan and broom or using  pair of tongs to handle the syringe. Wear gloves.
  • Place the syringe in a puncture resistant container, such as a bleach or laundry detergent bottle. Fan said to remember that these containers are puncture resistant not puncture-proof.
  • Remember that soda bottles, glass containers and coffee cans are not good storage devices because they are too thin, breakable or do not have secure lids.
  • Do not force a syringe to a container, find one that is large enough to easily drop the syringe into.
  • If you frequently see or deal with discarded syringes, contact STAP. The organization can train people how to pick up syringes safely and provide portable, safe disposal bins. Those needing wall-mounted disposal bins at other locations, such a public bathrooms, can also contact STAP about getting one.
  • Take the syringe to a drop-off kiosk at STAP, located at 314 W. State St. Kiosks are located behind the facility, which is a renovated blue house,  24-hours a day.
  • Alternately, syringes can be taken to IPD headquarters, located at 120 E. Clinton St.
  • Nursing homes and hospitals also have designated hours for individuals to drop off hypodermic needles. Call the nearest facility by you to find out what those hours are.

For more information about where to discard needles or safe practices for discarding them, visit the New York State Department of Health website, which lists best disposal practices and locations of syringe exchange programs in New York.

Featured photo by Jolene Almendarez/ The Ithaca Voice. (Note: The photo depicts an unsafe way to handle discarded hypodermic needles.) 

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.