Behind Trinity Capers, a steady rhythm and blues beat carried from the corner of Northeast Seventh Avenue and Alberta Street in Portland. It was the kickoff of Safe Homes! Healthy Homes!, a bi-monthly community event hosted by North by Northeast Community Health Center and Metro.
The next one will happen Friday, Nov. 9.
The health fair – complete with a DJ, raffle, free food, educational games, green cleaning and recycling tips, blood pressure checks, and free disposal of medication and needles – is designed to be fun.
It’s also intended to provide more options for people in the neighborhood to safely dispose of unused medications, and used injection needles, known as sharps.
Safe Homes! Healthy Homes! events
North by Northeast Community Health Center
714 NE Alberta St., Portland
2 to 5 p.m.
Nov. 9, 2018
Jan. 11, 2019
March 8, 2019
May 10, 2019
Capers and her sister both are diabetic and depend on insulin injections. She used the kickoff event to dispose of about six month’s worth of used syringes, which, she said, she’s had trouble finding places to take.
"You all are lifesavers," she said as she loaded her arms up with free empty sharps disposal containers. “I’ll definitely be back.”
Bringing services to the community
Sharetta Butcher, the community care director at North by Northeast, helped plan the series of free events.
“Our environment is connected to our health,” Butcher said. “This is about reducing toxins in our environment and bringing awareness to the community of the services that Metro offers.”
According to SafeNeedleDisposal.org, approximately 9 million needle-users each year administer 3 billion injections outside of healthcare facilities.
Used medical sharps that are tossed into garbage and recycling bins put the health of the people who handle that waste at risk. Medications also should stay out of the garbage bin to prevent water and soil contamination, as well as unintended harm to people or animals.
“The medication take-back is so important because of the possible impact of accidental poisoning to children,” said Kari Meyer, hazardous waste specialist with Metro. She said needles can pose serious risks too. “Possible (Hepatitis) C infection is very real,” she said.
By the end of the event, Metro had collected 35 gallons of used sharps and gave out 32 free empty hazardous waste containers. About 100 people participated.
A partnership forged for a better future
Metro’s partnership with North by Northeast began more than five years ago when the center applied for the first of two Community Enhancement grants to expand clinic services and provide operating support.
In the summer of 2017, Butcher and members of North by Northeast’s Patient Wellness Council visited Metro Central transfer station. The tour was part of an 18-month process to bring diverse voices into the conversation shaping the 2030 Regional Waste Plan.
“We were in the section (of Metro Central) where people were dropping off sharps,” Butcher says. “I thought – we have diabetic patients who do not know where to dispose of their sharps.”
A lightbulb went on. “We just started asking a bunch of questions and had a big discussion,” she says.
After her visit, Butcher continued talking with Metro, and the clinic surveyed 60 patients about how they dispose of their needles. Only three respondents said they took their sharps to Metro hazardous waste facilities.
“The majority said they throw sharps and medicine away in the trash,” Butcher says.
According to those Butcher surveyed, there are a variety of reasons this happens. The number one reason is uncertainty about where to take them.
Safe Homes! Healthy Homes! events will continue through spring of next year.
Safe options for sharp disposal
Sharps should never be flushed down the toilet or placed in the recycling or trash.
Place used sharps in an approved container. You can find these at many local pharmacies, medical supply stores and Metro’s two hazardous waste facilities.
Drop your sharps container at any of the following places.
- Fred Meyer pharmacies. Call ahead for information on procedures and fees.
- Bi-Mart pharmacies. Call ahead for procedures and fees.
- Metro Central in Northwest Portland or Metro South in Oregon City (note that hours at the hazardous waste facilities that take sharps are different from the hours at the transfer stations.)
- Some garbage haulers in Clackamas County will take sharps containers. Contact your hauler about fees and pick up arrangements.
If you find a hypodermic needle
- Don’t touch a used sharp with your bare hands. Pick it up wearing gloves or use a napkin, tissue, tongs or anything else that prevents the needle from coming into contact with your skin.
- Drop the sharp, needle point down, into a hard plastic container with a lid. Seal it up.
- Multnomah County provides detailed instructions on how to pick up and dispose of syringes and a map showing locations where you can dispose of an individual syringe.