Safe needle drop box installed in Palmer

The shiny blue receptacle that resembles a mailbox was recently installed in an alley behind the Mat-Su Urgent Care in Palmer.
Published: Jul. 5, 2022 at 8:04 PM AKDT
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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - Just weeks ago, the city of Palmer installed a safe needle drop box as part of a long-running campaign to combat the public health hazards caused by improper needle disposal.

Former interim Palmer City Council member Imran Chaudhry spearheaded the operation and said that he hopes this is a first step in addressing a plague of used syringes that have been littering parks, playgrounds and other public spaces not just around the state, but in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough in particular.

The drop box is a rectangular blue metal box that was recently installed in an alley behind the Mat-Su Urgent Care in Palmer, across the street from Palmer Fire and Rescue. Chaudhry says the location was carefully chosen.

“If we put it in a position in which it wasn’t really seen, people would not really know about it,” Chaudhry said. “But the fact that it’s right in the middle of downtown Palmer, in addition to right behind the fire department and Mat-Su Urgent Care, it’s in a perfect, safe spot.”

Chaudhry, who came to Palmer when he was just six months old, speaks highly of the town he grew up in. Chaudhry said that consistently seeing needles on the ground inspired him to try and effect change. During Chaudhry’s tenure on the city council, he proposed that needle drop boxes be installed in order to facilitate a conversation. However, the timing of Chaudry’s initiative caused a bit of a setback. Chaudhry first proposed the needle dropboxes in 2019 just before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Alaska, which led to the city dismissing non-COVID-19-related health costs. Chaudhry then sought other funding sources for the project.

“If anything it motivated me a little bit more to keep digging and try to find particular public funding that would help this,” Chaudhry said.

Because of Chaudhry’s efforts, this is now the first publicly funded used-needle disposal site in Palmer. Initially, Chaudhry reached out to other cities that implemented similar plan including Portland, Oregon. Chaudhry discussed the drop boxes with a policy director from Portland and later obtained a design used there, which Palmer city leaders agreed looked like a good idea. In 2019, Chaudhry consulted the Palmer Police Department, the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association, and staff at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center.

“It’s a no-nonsense, common-sense approach to an issue that the city of Palmer, the Mat-Su Borough, the state of Alaska, if not the entire world is facing and that’s the usage of syringes and the improper disposal of these syringes,” said Chaudhry.

In the past, the idea of disposal drop boxes have been criticized by some residents who believed that it would encourage drug use, but Chaudhry disagrees.

“If anything it takes care of a problem that’s already here. I don’t think people are going to look at this syringe box and choose to either start using more syringes — whether it’s for medical uses or illegal uses,” Chaudhry said.

The disposal site was made from donated scrap metal welded together and only costs $85 to empty.

So far, Chaudhry said that the community response has been positive. He wants to get the word out to people that the disposal site is up and running and is already working with other communities around the state such as Chickaloon and Anchorage to see about setting up additional disposal sites as well.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated.

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