A great way to raise awareness about the need for syringe access and biohazard collection is to organize clean-up events to pick up used syringes from public areas. In addition to removing hazardous materials from public spaces, where they could harm children and the public, syringe clean-up events are an opportunity to engage law enforcement on the issue of syringe access and direct media attention to how hepatitis C and HIV can spread through syringe sharing.
Here are a few tips for how to run an event:
1. Identify areas of town where syringes are routinely discarded on the ground. You may ask injection drug users, members of law enforcement, or knowledgeable community members for these locations. Typical locations are parks and wooded areas; empty lots behind pharmacies, department stores and laundromats; abandoned houses; and near railroad tracks.
2. Scout the area well before the event and take pictures of the locations and syringes. This step is important to make sure that there will actually be syringes to clean up before the event is scheduled. Sometimes, though you may be looking for syringes in the right location, it's the wrong time of season for outdoor use. Or someone may give you the location of an area that used to have a lot of injection drug use but no longer does. You will want to make sure that your volunteers have something to do when they arrive!
3. Invite local law enforcement to participate in the event. Law enforcement may not pick up the syringes themselves, but an officer or deputy may accompany the group for safety reasons. Having law enforcement along is a great opportunity to talk about syringe access and build relationships with potential allies on this issue.
4. Invite the media. Syringe clean-up events are a great way to spread awareness about the consequences of lack of syringe access, improper disposal methods and hepatitis C transmission. The event provides good visuals for the media and is usually well-attended.
5. Bring the right safety equipment. Equipment can include gloves (preferably tough, thick ones), BBQ tongs, biohazard containers (empty coffee cans will do) and reflective vests. The vests help identify members of the group when they spread out and are also a good visual tool to encourage questions from community members who walk by.
6. Coordinate your logistics. Volunteers spread out as they are looking for syringes, so make sure that everyone in the group has a clear starting point, directions to other locations, periodic check-in times and each other's phone numbers in case anyone gets separated.
7. Say Thank You! The most important thing is to thank everyone who participated -- volunteers, the event coordinator(s), the media and local law enforcement. It takes a village to run an event and people are more likely to participate in the future if they feel appreciated and valued.