Sunday, January 15, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Druggie needles

This is the final published piece from last week's run of columns. I'm back on the column beat in a little over a week (from Tuesday the 24th to Saturday the 28th.) I'll post 'em as they hit the paper. Until then, I hope you enjoy this one.

Like so many mid-sized cities, the intensity of discussion surrounding issues that affect urban life can often glow white-hot. When the city's flagship downtown library announced it had installed needle disposal bins in its washrooms (the original news story is here), it ignited a highly polarizing debate that continues to burn.

Other columnists have taken a stab at the issue, and letters to the editor have hit the paper with regularity since the story first broke. So from a darkened, hotel room in Calhoun, GA, I filed this early in the morning before we loaded the kids into the wondervan and continued our journey home. Even though I was hardly the only one talking about the issue, I couldn't resist the urge to dive in.
Library needle bins a necessary evil
Published Saturday, January 7, 2006
The London Free Press

I’m disappointed in Londoners’ response to the Central Library’s installation of needle disposal bins in its washrooms.

Instead of calling the new additions “gross” and worrying that they would attract drug users, I expected them to praise library leadership for doing something about a problem that most of us would rather sweep under the rug.

I guess I was naive. It seems we’re still a little too conservative when it comes to accepting progressive means of dealing with difficult issues.

Reality is often a bitter pill to swallow, but swallow it we must. The downtown core is already home to illegal drug users. Whether we like it or not is pretty much irrelevant.

Instead of dumping on the library for trying to address an ugly reality of life in the new millennium, the malcontents might want to brainstorm a few other ideas to keep our city and its residents safer.

The library’s move this week should be seen as merely the first step in the right direction. Sure, it’s ugly. But necessity must trump esthetics.

-30-
Your turn: Is the library's move a positive or a negative one? Why/why not? Is your part of the world experiencing anything similar?

24 comments:

Theo said...

as seems to be...Michele sent me.

nice piece. makes me aware of how different cultures can be and how varied our reactions to reality are.

Pink Pen said...

I think in theory it's a good idea. I'm not sure that the library is the right place for it. You don't really think of the library as the place to be shooting up... so maybe the needle deposits would be better served somewhere more convenient? Still... gross or not, it's better than the alternative. Needles all over the ground is definitely grosser.

Romanduck said...

I honestly never thought of the library as the place where druggies would go to congregate. I've never recognized any here in Tennessee, and I've been to the library more than a few times. I think the idea of needle bins is a good one if necessary, but I don't think it would BRING drug users to the library. I don't think they would care THAT much to properly dispose of their used needles.

Sandy said...

My first thought upon reading the library's program was of walking into a restroom with my children and seeing someone dropping a needle in the bin.

I won't say I wouldn't feel the same knee jerk reaction if it were my library, but your piece did make me think on it some.

In the grand scheme, I think I agree with Pink Pen. It's a good idea in theory. I just have these naive images of library's being a safe-haven of sorts. A place away from the horrors that can occupy every day life. Yet, in the end, it is better than the alternative if no one else is stepping up.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Here via Michele's again.

I don't know how I feel about that. I can't see druggies getting high in the library. But what do I know. Still, it seems odd to me.

Karen said...

Gosh, I'm not sure how I feel about this. I need to think on this for a while. Really.

I'm here returning the visit. Hope you had a nice weekend!

Michele sent me...

Plumkrazzee said...

Yay! If it was OUR library, I'd say go for it. Our library is in such a disgusting/dirty/downtown location that I have only been there once. Scarey to say the least. I know that we are getting way too desensitized to stuff like this, but what else can you do? Ignoring it will NOT make it go away, and if being proactive can help, then do it. Michele sent me this time.

Kimberly said...

I live in Seattle, which has a brand new downtown library, much beloved by many of its citizens, including the homeless ones. Where better for a homeless person to spend a cold, rainy day than in a warm, quiet building with lots of comfy seating?

Many of Seattle's homeless have substance abuse problems. They can't shoot up (or drink, or whatever) in the reading rooms, so I assume they may do so in the restrooms... which, to my mind, makes them the perfect place for needle deposits.

I want people to get rid of their needles safely, immediately after using them. I would welcome the placement of public needle deposits in any high drug-use areas.

chronicler said...

Positive. It's better than someone getting a needle stick cleaning up after the world. There are so many people that clean up for the rest of us, it's only fair we try to make it safer for them.

Another good post Carmi! I know why they have you write!

chronicler said...

Heh. Saw you at Fighting Inertia too!

Erin said...

I don't know. It's kind of scary to me that a library has needle disposal units. I would think there could be a better way to do this. Interesting article.

valbee said...

As unfortunate as it seems, the library would be a perfect place to start this kind of program. I work in a college campus library and it's open to the public. We attract some very interesting people, although most of them tend to be people with mental illnesses.

What remains to be seen is whether or not people will actually use the
needle bins. How conscientious will a drug user be? How conscientious are they able to be?

Chrixean said...

I really can't say how exactly i feel about this, because in my part of the world, such a thing is unheard of. Our country is very conservative. You would never catch anyone doing anything foolish in a public place lest they'd want to get beaten up afterwards. To place such a disposal bin in a public space here would cause quite a stir in government. For us over here, to do such a thing would mean encouraging people to actually continue doing what it is they're doing, and would even be considered helping them by disposing their paraphernalia in the best possible place!

That is my opinion...

Michael Manning said...

What a challenging subject, Carmi--as always--which is quite refreshing. One the one hand, I am glad to see this. My concern lies with what is being done for those who are addicted and genuinely want to rid themselves of drug use. It has been my observation in US cities that the downtown libraries attract society's throw-aways rather than the less tolerant suburban branches. This needs to be addressed not by Libraries but by our Health and Human Services Department and vigorously so!!!

JustSue said...

A sharps container mounted on the wall of any public washroom would be small, unobtrusive, and given time would be just seen as any other recepticle. It's the responsible way to go. Anyone who adopts the "gosh not in my town" or "I've never seen the need" just hasn't been looking hard enough. Small towns have just the same drug and substance abuse going on - it's just not as obvious and out in the open as with the cities. I am in that Soddom and Gommorah city of Toronto so I guess I am not as easily shocked as a small town resident would be.

Uisce said...

There are many evils that ought not be "swept under the rug." There are too many people that don't get a nutritious meal every day yet we don't put one-a-day vitamin dispensers in public places. It just seems odd to choose one problem to solve in such a public way.

barbie2be said...

why would a public library need needle disposal bins? isn't that kind of encouraging people to use drugs in the bathrooms?

The Complimenting Commenter said...

I would have to say that you wrote a wonderful piece. I agree with the thought process and the policy of the library. It is the best possible city location.

It has to be a gov't building. It can't be a police station or firehouse because people won't take needles there out of fear. It shouldn't be city hall due to the work that takes place there. The library is a safe, neutral location.

Bravo.

Claire said...

I'm in complete agreement with you. This kind of move can be nothing but a positive step in bringing into the open what is a huge problem in pretty much every city in every country. Good on them!

AverageMom said...

The library in my fair city is the place where a number of "locals" like to spend a wintery day. It's warm, there's running water, and the couches are soft. I think a needle bin would be ignored, though. If they aren't using the trash can, why would they use the needle bin?

yellojkt said...

The thought of junkies shooting up in public libraries gives me the creeps, but I guess it happens. I think the disposal bin makes sense to protect the health of the people that have to clean the wastebaskets.

I do have qualms about the aiding and abetting aspect of the program. It's like giving in. Baltimore has a strong needle exchange program that always draws controversy.

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

I agree that in theory this may be a very good idea, that is to say, a place to dispose needles. I question why the library as an institution was chosen over some other public place.

Needles scattered on the ground do pose health risks to others.

birdie said...

I have to say that I'd much rather walk into a public restroom where all the scary drug paraphenalia are nicely and santizingly contained by the biohazard box. Though it's not an activity I participate in or condone, it's hard to police the restrooms day in and day out. And do I really want to walk in to a room and have to pee in front of a stranger because someone deemed my tax dollars necessary to fund a cop to sit in the john all day? Or do I want a nice clean box for needles? It's a no win.

Prego said...

Nothin' like mainlinin' in the WC while perusing Naked Lunch. It's about time.



- My mom was a cleaning lady. Granted, in a hospital, where needles were for clinical use, and methodically disposed of. SOMEone has to clean the public toilet for a living, and minimizing any risk they might encounter is okay in my book.