Discarded dirty needles on SF sidewalks symptomatic of America's opioid epidemic

San Francisco has a growing problem with no apparent end in sight. The problem is dirty needles strewn along the city's sidewalks, streets and parks.

In March city workers found 13,333 used syringes on the street. During that time last year the number was less than 3,000.

"As the city develops, we are seeing a lot more of these problems coming into the heart of the city. And we are out there cleaning them up," said Rachel Gordon, spokeswoman for the San Francisco  Public Works department.

One homeless man collected at least 20 syringes at City Hall Plaza Monday.

He disposed of them in a city operated needle disposal box. 

It seems to many people that San Francisco is becoming buried in dirty needles.

"You can definitely see them on the ground when you walk up and down the street. You can literally see people injecting themselves on a daily basis," said John Stevenson.

It could be worse. About 11,000 additional needles a month end up in disposal boxes scattered around the city, needles that might otherwise end up on the street.

One heroin user in front of the main library says he's been shooting up since last year. He described what he does with his used needles.

" I break the point off right away and stick it in the dirt. Stomp it down and put it in a can. Flush it down the toilet," said Larry Heistand.

Another heroin user, who asked not to be identified, says he never leaves his used needles on the ground.

"The wrong people are disposing of drugs in the wrong way and disposing of their drug equipment in the wrong way. I find needles on the street. I don't like it," he said.

The city has established a commission to look into providing an indoor, safe injection site. A recommendation could come as soon as August.

That could reduce some of the used needles on the street, and with counselors present perhaps  some addicts would consider  treatment.

"It's a good idea because it is not in public. A lot of people don't want to see injection drug users," said an injection drug user. 

But for now it appears it's getting harder to find the haystack, amid the needles.