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New sharps boxes being installed in La Crosse County

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – La Crosse County residents now have safer options to dispose of needles and syringes. Local officials continue their work to get used needles off the streets of La Crosse.

At the La Crosse County Health and Human Services building you’ll find a brand new sharps box. Installed last month, it’s one of four boxes in the county that can be used for the safe disposal of needles.

In 2017, there were two sharps disposables placed in La Crosse, one on the northside near the boat ramp off Rose Street, the other on the southside in the Jay Street alley between 4th and 5th streets. Now, there are four, with plans for more. The third is located at the Health & Human Services Building at 300 4th Street N., and the fourth is in West Salem at 180 E. Jefferson Street by the bike trail.

Bob Ritger, with the Western Wisconsin Health Care Readiness Coalition, has been involved since the inception of this idea. “We were hearing an abundance of needles being found,” said Ritger.

Most people think of drug users when they think of needles, but there are other health reasons people use them, like being diabetic.

“People are definitely using them we just want to make sure they have safe options,” said La Crosse County Health Educator Al Bliss.

Bliss and Ritger said the sharps boxes provide people a safe place to dispose of needles properly.

“The containers themselves were actually built by a company that builds and distributes and sells trash cans for the National Park Service for grizzly bears,” explained Ritger.

The locations for these sharps boxes were chosen based on where the fire department gets calls to pick up needles.

In the month of July, the La Crosse Fire Department was called to do needle pick up 46 times, 19 more than the previous month.

Ritger said, “We traditionally see an increase in calls in the warmer months when more people are out and about, those needles are seen and around on the streets. It’s definitely an issue.”

Needles pose risks for obvious reasons, punctures can cause bacterial and viral infections. “We’ve heard of other communities, such as Indiana, which had a large breakout of HIV cases because of sharing needles, that’s why we want to offer these [sharps boxes],” explained Bliss.

The boxes will lessen the burden on the firefighters responding to the needle pick up calls. Bliss wants to make sure the public knows the boxes aren’t meant to encourage users.

“It is a harm reduction type of strategy it’s not the only thing we are doing. We want people to be aware we have to have services to meet people where they’re at.”

Plans are in place to put in three other sharps boxes around the county. There will be two in Onalaska and one in the Town of Campbell within the next couple of months.

If any businesses have sharps to dispose of, business owners are asked to use the La Crosse County Household Hazardous Materials facility at 3202 Berlin Drive in La Crosse. Health officials remind you to never throw away loose needles in trash cans, on the street, and never flush then down the toilet.

Visit their website for more information.  Adding these new sharps boxes is one initiative of the Alliance to HEAL.

RELATED: Boom in overdose-reversing drug is tied to fewer drug deaths


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