Needle Finder app developed to track discarded needles in Huron County

Zoe Greszler • Mar 12, 2017 at 12:00 PM

Local health officials soon have a new aid in the struggle against Huron County’s drug epidemic, an aid developed by one of their own epidemiologists.

Residents have filed complaints about needles being found throughout the county — in children’s parks, on sidewalks, in people’s yards.

Huron County Public Health Department (HCPH) officials realized they had no way of tracking or gathering real data about the discarded syringes.

“We’ve seen huge increase to our hepatitis C in the county, and it’s not really limited to our county,” health commissioner Tim Hollinger said. “It’s a growing problem all over.

“We know that hepatitis C is associated with intravenous (IV) drug use. We also have lots of comments from the community that there are needles everywhere. They can turn up on playgrounds, sidewalks, yards, anywhere kids could get them.”

Spare needles on the ground could pose a very dangerous risk even beyond hepatitis C.

“Some of the things we’re learning with our opiate task course is the fact that the heroin found in the county, almost all of it has fentanyl in it, at varying levels,” the health commissioner said. “Fentanyl is dramatically more potent with how much it takes to overdose on. The amount of residue that it takes to effect someone without a tolerance is very, very low.

“So a child with a low body weight anyway, picking up a needle with a substance with fentanly in it or even just fentanyl — the chances of overdose are very high. It’s the same with a police officer getting stuck with something during an arrest or as they collect evidence. They don’t have that tolerance and then you have them overdosing just picking it up. You don’t have to have the actual needle stick. It can just touch your skin and that’s enough because it can be absorbed through your skin. So we’re also looking at unintentional overdose too.”

Because there has been no way of tracking discarded syringes, HCPH epidemiologist Sydney Cmar created an app to do just that.

“Sydney came up with this really nice idea which uses a GPS mapping system. She’s designed the whole thing and created it — the Needle Finder app. It will be used to assess the safety risk and prevalence in our county.”

Cmar said the way the app will work is designed to be “simple, efficient and easy to use.” The community will log in as “a guest,” which will pull up a 3-mile radius map based on their GPS location reading. You then either type in the address where the needle was found or use a current location option to mark where it was found.

“You can also ‘like’ an entry or you can leave a comment on it, like ‘I’ve seen them there too,’” Cmar said.

“People can also enter their name and phone number if they want to but it wouldn’t be viewable by the public,” she added. “We would be the only ones who see that part. You’ll have the option of taking or uploading a picture of the needle and where it was found. It will be desktop-accessible too, with typing the physical address in directly. It’s pretty user friendly.”

“It’s not been released yet since it is still in the development stages. It’s ready, but we just need to get it together and put it out there and get a press release out,” she said.

“I’m going to create a webpage about it, too, so people know how to use the Needle Finder. …We’re going to really push this to Huron County residents obviously, but really you can log a needle from anywhere.”

HCPH won’t be responsible for the collection of the potentially dangerous items, though. 

“We’re not actually going to go pick it up,” Hollinger said.

“So we’re not someone you can complain to come get it and pick it up. The owner of the property would be responsible for taking care of it. If it’s a private residential property, we couldn’t go there anyway. If it’s in a park or the sidewalk, we could call the city and say, ‘Hey, you have a syringe at this location.’”

The focus of the app is more for data collection at the moment.

“No one knows how big of an issue it is really,” Hollinger said. “We’ve all heard of it, but no one knows. Do we have a safety issue out there or not? You have to have actual data to know that. It might be an occasional thing like the law enforcement is reporting it as an occasional issue, rather than a real safety concern. But we don’t know yet.”

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