Editor's note: This is part of an ongoing series on opioid overdoses in the Northland. To read about needles in Duluth, go here.
Duluth is not alone in its efforts to minimize the hazards used and undisposed needles pose to both illicit drug users and other members of the community.
In the past couple years, the Cloquet Police Department has experienced an increase in calls from people who find used needles around Cloquet, Acting Police Chief Carey Ferrell said.
"We get calls all over town," Ferrell said. "Whether it's at Pinehurst Park or on Highway 33 or Carlton Avenue or 14th Street. It's really throughout town. Somebody is walking and they notice a needle and they'll call us."
Unlike Duluth, Cloquet does not have a hotline number people can call who want to request disposal of needles. Instead, Ferrell recommends people call 911 if they aren't comfortable handling sharps themselves. Around 2015, Cloquet police started equipping vehicles with sharps containers so officers could properly dispose of needles.
Some people, like nurses and other trained individuals, feel comfortable picking up sharps themselves. In that case, Laura Eng, a public health nurse with Carlton County said the person handling the sharps will need a pair of medical-grade gloves and a safe place to discard the needle, which could be a biohazard container or a laundry detergent bottle specifically labeled "sharps."
"I would not be picking something up unless I knew where I was going with it," Eng said.
If someone finds a needle or syringe in a public place like a grocery store or a restaurant, Eng said someone should stick around and make sure nobody touches it, especially children, while another person finds an employee who can take care of it.
At the beginning of May, Cloquet police received nine calls in 2019 from the public requesting needle disposal and issued eight citations for possession of hypodermic needles, which is a misdemeanor offense. Fifteen people have been booked in the Carlton County Jail with offenses that include hypodermic needle possession.
Typically, when county deputies spot illegal needle possession, they're finding users who haven't disposed of a small number of needles left in their vehicle or home, Sheriff Kelly Lake said in an email to the Pine Journal.
In 1997 the Minnesota Legislature passed an act allowing pharmacies to sell up to 10 syringes to people without a medical prescription with the goal of reducing the transmission of HIV and HEP-C among those who use illicit drugs intravenously.
State law requires pharmacies that sell hypodermic needles and syringes to support proper disposal. Community Memorial Hospital, Walmart and Walgreens pharmacies in Cloquet all participate in syringe access and disposal, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
Ali Mueller, public health educator for Carlton County, said the Carlton County Drug Prevention Coalition has looked into syringe exchange options for Carlton County but has not pursued any specific action.