Spring breakup can leave Alaskans finding disposed syringes. State health officials say it can be OK for people to pick up needles they find on the ground — but only if they are properly prepared to do it safely.

Elana Habib, an opioid misuse and addiction prevention specialist with the state Department of Health and Social Services, said the most important thing is to keep a strong barrier between yourself and the needle.

"Because you don't want to expose yourself to potential infectious diseases such as hepatitis, HIV, syphilis, these bloodborne pathogens that live on these syringes at times," Habib said.

needles should be put in a thick plastic container

Habib recommends wearing gloves so that hands never touch the syringe. People without gloves might consider using a tool, she said, like a pair of pliers.

Where you place the needle is just as important. Habib said a sharps container is ideal but any sturdy, thick-walled plastic container would work. Habib said it's important to label the container, and if it's going in the trash, which is permitted by Anchorage's Solid Waste Services, to make sure the lid of the container is taped shut.

More information on where to take needles is available in a flyer posted by DHSS.

Habib said people who are not properly equipped to pick up needles should not attempt to do so. Instead, she recommends reporting the location to the Anchorage Police Department's non-emergency line at 311 or the local Parks and Recreation Department at 907-343-4355 if the needle is found in a park.

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