To save drug users’ lives

Parks to get needle kiosks, but not Vannie

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Syringe disposal kiosks are coming to more than a dozen Bronx parks. In fact, some may already be installed. 

But not to Van Cortlandt Park. At least not yet.

The city’s parks and health departments are installing more than 60 of the kiosks in select Bronx parks starting this week in an effort to reduce the prevalence of discarded needles. 

It’s part of the city’s HealingNYC initiative, launched in 2017 and aimed at tackling the opioid epidemic, exacerbated throughout the 2000s by the overprescribing of addictive painkillers like OxyContin and Percocet — drugs which pharmaceutical companies marketed as non-addictive treatment for chronic pain, according to a 2009 study in the American Journal of Public Health.

In 2016, an estimated 1,300 people died from drug overdoses in the city, an average of nearly four deaths each day. That was more than any other year on record, according to unpublished provisional data from the city’s chief medical examiner and health department. An estimated 80 percent of those deaths involved an opioid, surpassing the loss of life from car accidents and homicides combined.

As part of the effort to clean up all those discarded needles, the parks department and local syringe exchange programs will deploy staff with blood-borne pathogen training to regularly empty, clean and disinfect kiosks. The city also is working on outreach efforts like offering overdose prevention education to people who use drugs in Bronx parks, information on where they can get treatment, and handing out personal syringe containers.

“Providing these safe disposal units builds on the city’s harm reduction work to reach those who need help with substance misuse, while keeping our parks safe and clean for everyone,” said first lady Chirlane McCray, who leads the city’s mental health and substance misuse efforts, in a release.

The parks department picks up around 5,000 needles a week across all Bronx parks, said Kelly Krause, who handles press for the department. Those with the most discarded syringes lying around — like Mott Haven’s Saint Mary’s Park, the South Bronx’s Patterson Playground, and Mount Hope’s Echo Park — are set to receive kiosks, all of which will be locked, with signage encouraging safe syringe disposal and promoting addiction services.

But discarded needles don’t seem to be an issue for Van Cortlandt Park, where such finds are rare, Krause said. “The locations chosen were based on greatest need.”

This part of the borough has been so untouched by the problem of littering parks with used needles, 50th Precinct commanding officer Terence O’Toole wasn’t even aware of the kiosk plan, at least where his precinct is concerned.

“To my knowledge, this does not seem to be a major problem in any of our parks,” O’Toole said, adding major crimes are down drastically in Vannie.

“The problems in the park that involve the New York Police Department are loud music, overcrowding and (people) remaining in the park after closing,” he added. “We have directed patrols through Van Cortlandt Park and all other parks. At night, we patrol and ensure all park users exit.”

The main drug-related complaints in parks, O’Toole said, tend to involve people smoking marijuana.

“I don’t see the parks here having excessive heroin users,” he said. “There may be some, but not as pervasive as other locations in the city.”

Friends of Van Cortlandt Park executive director Christina Taylor agreed.

“As far as I am aware, there are no plans or real need to put the boxes in” the park, she said. “It does happen, but not very often. And definitely not to the point where I see it as something to be concerned about here.”

Smoking, however, is a problem, Taylor said — cigarettes, cigars and marijuana — as is people drinking booze throughout the park. But those probably are not unique to Vannie.

“I’m assuming” these issues affect “every park in New York City,” Taylor said. “Except maybe Central Park, because they have more parks enforcement patrol officers to enforce the rules.”

But there’s also the decidedly subjective question of how the very presence of syringe disposal kiosks could affect someone’s perception of a neighborhood. The bigger issue, however, is the fact this speaks to a massive public health crisis, said Gary Wartels, president of the North Riverdale Merchant and Business Association.

“This is, overall, a very sad and serious public health issue,” said Wartels, who runs Skyview Wine & Spirits. “If (installing the kiosks) helps clean up, that’s a good thing.”

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