MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- It's been two years since WCCO first reported on the dangerous needle littering problem in parts of south Minneapolis.
At that time, Minneapolis firefighters planned to pick up the needles until the city found a better solution. But despite their efforts, the problem is arguably worse, says Assistant Minneapolis Fire Chief Melanie Rucker.
"This year it seems like it's almost double, you know, the amount of needles that we're picking up, and there has been an uptick in some of the overdoses and drug-related responses that we go to," Rucker said.
Minneapolis Fire Stations 5 and 7 on Bloomington and Franklin avenues are the busiest, with firefighters picking up hundreds of needles last month alone.
WCCO revisited an alley near 25th and Bloomington avenues, where syringes with needles still attached are everywhere. But the most concerning needles are hidden on the sidewalk under weeds.
Greg Lough, who has lived in the neighborhood for 14 years, says he's actually seen fewer needles since some hangouts -- like a nearby gas station -- closed.
"I don't have a lot of patience with it, but at the same time I have a certain amount of empathy," Lough said. "Do I like it? Hell no. If I can kick the habit, so can they I think."
Noya Woodrich with the Minneapolis Health Department says despite prevention work -- and installing needle drop boxes that have already collected thousands of needles this year -- the opioid crisis is intensifying.
"In 2019 and 2020, we've seen significant increase in the number of fatal overdoses," Woodrich said. "I often hear complaints of people just standing on a sidewalk and just shooting up, and people get tired of seeing that, and people get tired of their kids seeing that."
She too still gets those needle littering complaints, and often.
"I feel like it's worse again," Woodrich said. "We need to prevent the issue from ever being an issue. We need to help ensure that our young kids aren't going towards opioids.
The Minneapolis Health Department is using some American Rescue Plan funds to pay for the needle drop box program, as well as some prevention work with youth-serving organizations.
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