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'I Lost Count At 60': Neighbors, Firefighters Clean Up Used Needles In Minneapolis As Problem Grows

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Health department workers say finding syringes on the ground is becoming a frequent problem in Minneapolis.

While leaders work on long-term solutions, the Minneapolis Fire Department and outreach workers are picking up the slack.

Only on WCCO-TV, Erin Hassanzadeh shows us the shocking situation along Bloomington Avenue.

In a parking lot off 27th and Bloomington Avenue, across from Minneapolis Fire Station 5, it takes less than a minute to stumble upon a stray needle. Walk five more steps and you'll find another. It's becoming a regular part of the job for firefighters across Minneapolis.

"I'm hearing from Station 5 that they are doing a lot of this, a whole lot of this, and ya know, it frustrates them," said Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Tyner.

It didn't take very long, probably less than 10 minutes, for the chief to find at least 10 needles.

Outreach worker Autumn Dillie walks up and down Bloomington Avenue four days a week, passing out water and supplies. Last Tuesday, she used her shift to pick up needles off the ground.

"Within that four hours, we picked up 60-plus needles. I lost count at 60," Dillie said. "Our babies are seeing this. Our babies understand it. They understand that it's a problem."

Dillie says she regularly sees sex trafficking, homelessness and drug abuse in this area. Many ask her for Narcan, the drug used to reverse overdoses.

"The people who don't use still request Narcan just because they have friends that do," she said.

But Dillie tells us she's not discouraged.

"I don't feel helpless, I feel hopeful," Dillie said.

Half a mile away, the drug problem and subsequent needle littering is something of which the Little Earth community is fully aware.

"We're approaching it head-on, so we have maintenance, our groundskeepers, if they're seeing needles in the area, in the vicinity, every morning, they're picking up those needles," said Jessica Roussea, executive director of the Little Earth Residents Association.

Tyner says firefighters have picked up about 550 needles across the city since June.

"Right now, we're just filling in the gap until a better solution can be established," Tyner said.

The Minneapolis Health Department says it knows about the needles littering Minneapolis streets, and that it is working on short and long-term solutions to the problem.

"This kind of speaks to how big this problem is," Tyner said.

The health department says it is a problem across the city, but they're noticing it most in the Ventura Village, Midtown Phillips and East Phillips neighborhoods.

"The opioid epidemic has impacted every neighborhood in Minneapolis, and we need an all-hands-on-deck effort from regional, state and federal partners to tackle the problem," Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said. "At the city level, I will be proposing a hospital intervention program for opioid addiction, and our health and fire department staff will continue with pickup and disposal efforts, which we will consider expanding in the future. Additionally, we will continue pursuing recommendations from our Opioid Taskforce aimed at reducing opioid use in Minneapolis."

Outreach workers say when they pass out safe disposal boxes, people do use them. That's how they've recovered hundreds of used syringes.

If you find used needles in your area, call 311.

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