Park-goers adjust to new syringe disposal boxes

A new syringe disposal box at Patterson Playground. Photo: Vanessa Colón Almenas

Some say added police presence is a more sensible approach to the growing problem

Some South Bronx residents consider the city’s plan to install syringe disposal boxes in their parks a mixed bag. They know something must be done, but not everyone is sure this is the right approach. 

Mott Haven resident Liesi Morán, 36, was already aware that St. Mary’s Park has a long-standing reputation for the syringes that litter the ground, because of the drug users who shoot up in the park. Two months ago she saw for herself how the problem could endanger her own family. While playing with her three sons on one of the park’s hills, Morán came across several used needles. That was enough for her to prohibit her 8-, 11- and 18-year-old sons, from running on those hills anymore.

“I am not against the people who need drugs,” she said. But she wishes those who shoot up in public places would be considerate of others, like her and her sons, so other park frequenters don’t get punctured.

Thirty-five-acre St. Mary’s Park is the largest in the South Bronx and one of 16 parks across the borough in which the city will be placing 60 new syringe disposal boxes in the coming months. Nearly 5,000 needles are picked up every week in those parks during the spring and summer, according to the parks department, prompting an urgent response from the city.

The program stems from Healing NYC, a $60 million initiative the city launched in 2016 to combat the opioid epidemic. In 2017, 1,441 drug overdose deaths were reported citywide, 342 of which were in the Bronx. 

The mother of a 10-year-old who plays at Patterson Playground on College Avenue, which is the first Bronx site to receive a disposal box, said she opposes the initiative. Until she was informed, the woman, who declined to give her name, was unaware what the green box alongside the playground’s multi-use field near the benches even was. 

“Kids are still around and can see it,” she said. “We try to prevent kids from doing drugs. Keep it away from the school.”

P.S. 018, the John Peter Zenger School, is located next to the two-acre playground. Across the street at at the Head Start Program at St. Rita’s Center, which holds programs for three- and four-year-olds, a 60-year-old local resident who declined to give her name expected the box to create problems.

“Kids are curious and will try to find a way to open it,” she said, adding that that more police presence in the area is what’s most sorely needed.

Bronx parks commissioner Iris Rodríguez-Rosa says she is aware of residents’ concerns. However, she explained, the problem has grown so extensive and the number of thrown-away syringes so extensive that the city has no choice but to draw up new approaches to tackle the problem.

A spokesman for the parks department said that the parks with the most syringes will be the ones getting the boxes in the next few weeks. 

Two Manhattan-based nonprofit groups that work with intravenous drug users will be in charge of cleaning out the boxes, aided by locally-based St Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction and Boom!Health, which will help pick up the syringes from the park grounds. 

The chairman of Community Board 2 in Hunts Point, Robert Crespo, said the the new policy is a “double-edged sword.” Bill Rainey Park in Longwood is another of the 16 Bronx parks where the new boxes will be placed. 

“It’s something that may be needed, but I personally do not sanction it because it’s sort of promoting more usage,” said Crespo. The city should respond to the public health crisis of opioid addiction and the danger posed by loose syringes by ramping up pay for police to patrol in area parks and dark areas,instead of responding “in a cheap way” with disposal boxes, he said.

Kiosks with syringe disposal boxes will be installed in the following Bronx parks and playgrounds:

·         St. Mary’s Park

·         Tremont Park

·         Crotona Park

·         Ryan Triangle

·         People’s Park

·         Concrete Plant Park

·         Rainey Park

·         Claremont Park

·         Franz Sigel Park

·         Clark Playground

·         Garrison Playground

·         Patterson Playground

·         Nelson Playground

·         Aqueduct Walk

·         Echo Park

·         University Woods