Safer disposal of drug-related litter
What is drug litter?
Drug paraphernalia, when it is not disposed of properly, is known as drug litter.
Drug paraphernalia is any equipment or material that is used for making, using or carrying drugs. Below is a list of drug paraphernalia:
- separate needle
- separate barrel
- vitamin C
- pre-injection swabs
- post-injection swab
- personal sharps bin
- bloody tissues
- empty syringe packets
- tinfoil which has been used to smoke drugs
- homemade crack pipes
- other items with blood from injecting on them.
Drug litter poses risks to the public and it should not be handled or disposed of without the proper equipment and adequate training.
Drug litter can lead to needle stick injuries (where the skin is pierced or punctured with a needle) which can lead to the individuals contracting Hepatitis C or HIV.
Where does drug litter come from?
Drug paraphernalia can be obtained from needle exchange services. These services provide drug users with clean syringes and other equipment to hygienically inject drugs. Personal sharps bins are also given out to allow people to dispose of drug paraphernalia safely.
Drug paraphernalia may be found in public places due to public injecting, the lack of a personal sharps bin and other reasons.
Drug litter information video
Below is a short video that shows some commonly discarded drug paraphernalia.
What to do if you find drug litter
Drug litter is dangerous. If you come across any drug litter, do not attempt to remove it yourself.
Drug litter needs to be disposed of by people who have the proper equipment and who know how to dispose of it safely.
Call your Local Authority to report what you have found and where. If the drug litter is in a public place, the Local Authority will dispose of it safely.
If the drug litter is on private property, the Local Authority will be able to advise on how the property owner can dispose of it safely.
Drug litter risks
The risks of contracting HIV, Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C from a used needle are:
- it is very unlikely that HIV would be transmitted through an accidental needle stick injury, however, a risk does exist. HIV dies in open-air very quickly – within a few moments. So, if there was HIV on the tip of the needle, and it got poked through your skin and into your bloodstream, it’s probably already dead and unable to infect you.
- Hepatitis B can live outside the body for 7 days and so the risk of contracting Hepatitis B from a needle stick is greater than that of contracting HIV.
- Hepatitis C can live outside the body for up to three weeks and so the risk of contracting this from a needle stick is greater than HIV and Hepatitis B.
- it is important to note that no definitive risk of contracting a blood-borne virus through a needle stick has been calculated. It is important to take all precautions against receiving a needle stick injury and that, if you do, you attend medical services immediately.
What to do if you receive a needle stick injury
If you pierce or puncture your skin with a used needle, follow this first aid advice immediately:
- encourage the wound to bleed, ideally by holding it under running water.
- wash the wound using running water and plenty of soap.
- don’t scrub the wound while you’re washing it.
- don’t suck the wound.
- dry the wound and cover it with a waterproof plaster or dressing.
- seek urgent medical advice - go to the nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department. You do not need to bring the needle with you. You do not need to know who used the needle previously.