The program — which was started in August 2016 — was set up to respond to citizen complaints about where discarded needles were most frequently found, according to a news release by the utility company that oversees the pilot program.

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That’s how many hypodermic needles were collected in the first 15 months of the Sharps Collection Pilot Program that’s believed to be unique to Seattle.

The program — which was started in August 2016 — was set up to respond to citizen complaints about where discarded needles were most frequently found, according to a news release from Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), which oversees the pilot program.

According to the statement, more than 1,100 complaints were filed online, called in to the city at 206-684-7587 or reported using the city’s Find It, Fix It app.

Some 26,647 syringes were disposed of in one of SPU’s nine Sharps disposal boxes around the city. Another 5,365 needles were collected and removed from public property by hand.

Seattle is the first U.S. city to combine syringe-complaint response and disposal boxes as a standalone Sharps program, the statement says.

“Last year I worked with SPU to add funding to develop three pilot programs to address the increase in need to keep streets clean and safe; the Sharps pilot program was one of them,” said City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who chairs the City Council’s Rights, Utilities, Economic Development & Arts Committee.

“There is still much work to do and many people yet to connect with treatment.  We must keep our focus to successfully address the needs of those that most need our help,” Herbold said.

SPU’s Idris Beauregard, who leads the needle-collection pilot, credited the program’s initial successes to listening to and working with local communities.

“The department surveyed users of the City’s Find It, Fix It app to get a better understanding of where needles are most often found,” Beauregard said. “We asked about the effectiveness of Sharps disposal boxes, what information platforms customers use most often, and whether customers have observed a reduction in the number of needles and feel safer as a result of the program.”

One of the things that particularly caught his attention, Beauregard said, was customers reporting needles found near schools and playgrounds — places where families spend their down time.

“With me, being a father of two children, that’s where it really hit home,” Beauregard said. “This is not just a drug problem, it’s a community problem.”

For Beauregard, ensuring the needle-collection services benefit the entire Seattle community is an important focus of the program.

“If our goal is to create and maintain a safe, livable community for everyone, it’s our duty to engage harder-to reach-populations,” he said.

Sharps program materials were translated into Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese to better serve the most diverse Seattle neighborhoods.

Additionally, SPU did not assume everyone has access to a computer or the ability to navigate an online survey written in English, so the department recently sent out 29,000 mail-in surveys with prepaid postage to residents living in close proximity to one of the syringe-disposal boxes.

Seattle’s Sharps Collection Pilot Program also provides training and education to other city departments, community groups, business-improvement associations, and Seattle Public Schools. One example was a workshop SPU held at Casa Latina, an organization that works on behalf of Latina and Latino immigrants.

“We had over 50 people show up, a number of whom are landscapers and are at higher risk to syringe exposure than the general population, given the nature of their work,” Beauregard said. “This is a population that may not feel the greatest comfort level with government, so we wanted to hold the workshop in a safe space, led in Spanish by a trusted member of the community, to empower those in attendance to ask questions about what to do when a needle is discovered.”

Beauregard said that because the pilot program has only been in operation for 15 months, there is insufficient data to say whether the large number of syringes collected correlates to an increase in drug usage around the city. The pilot is budgeted through December 2018.

Future plans for the Sharps program include an informative video for businesses and community organizations on general Sharp disposal information and mail-in surveys to the communities that currently house the Sharps disposal boxes.