The city of Lowell, Massachusetts is taking an unprecedented step as it continues to battle the effects of the opioid crisis.
After discarded syringes have been found everywhere from parks to public mailboxes, officials are creating a city position to coordinate the clean-up.
The job of syringe collection program coordinator will be a full-time position with a salary between $43,000 and $47,000 a year. It will be part of the health and human services department.
The Lowell City Council voted unanimously to approve the job that will not only focus on searching for syringes but also educating the public about mobile pick-up and needle exchange programs.
Lowell Fire Chief Jeff Winward applauded the new position saying his department gets a lot of reports of discarded needles, but they are too busy responding to overdoses. Earlier this year, they had 20 overdoses in three days.
“We worry if there’s a needle nearby and someone gets stuck, they could be exposed to communicable diseases like HIV and hepatitis,” Winward said.
The risk is serious after reports of a recent HIV spike among addicts in Lowell. It is why needle collection has become an important part of what a group does through the Life Connection Center. They picked up roughly 2,000 syringes around the city in less than two hours last week.
“It’s very, very sad when you see it in so much volume,” Jaime Dillon, the executive director of the Life Connection Center said. “It’s something you just can’t get away from. There is an urgency and I applaud the city for figuring this out.”
Advocates who help recovering addicts are also praising the decision. Bill Garr, CEO of the Lowell House, said they could always use money for more beds and treatment, but the investment in this position is just as important.
“Getting someone to coordinate the effort, getting everyone working together will save lives,” Garr said.