As a Type-1 diabetic, Debra Gairson will burn through five syringes of insulin a day to keep her blood sugar at healthy levels.
The result is a lot of used needles that can quickly fill up her 2-gallon medical waste container.
The following pharmacies offer inexpensive syringe disposal for low-income patients:
Gairson held up the plastic, lock-top container and showed that it was nearly full Friday afternoon.
"This is a pretty large container, but I can fill it in about a month," she said.
Gairson, 59, cannot work because of the severity of her disease. She recently lost her space at an assisted-living center and now lives in a modest home on Edwards Street in west Medford. Money is tight, and Gairson found that she could not afford the nearly $20 fee charged by Rogue Disposal & Recycling to dispose of her used syringes.
Gairson reached out to Help Now! Advocacy Center in Medford for assistance.
Help Now! volunteer Molly McCollum, a senior at Southern Oregon University, was troubled by Gairson's predicament and decided to look into how the Rogue Valley deals with used syringes.
She was surprised by her findings.
"There's really only one option for low-income people to dispose of their 'sharps,' " said McCollum, using a term to describe syringes. "We aren't criticizing Rogue Disposal & Recycling because they do a good job and have to charge to stay in business, but for some on fixed incomes, the fee is more than they can afford."
It is illegal in Oregon to throw syringes in the trash. They must be kept in a rigid container and are taken from a disposal center to be sterilized. Afterward, they are transported to a landfill outside Corvallis.
Through her research, McCollum determined that approximately 6,300 people in Jackson County self-medicate using syringes each day. Most of those people have diabetes or another chronic disease. There are others, though not nearly as many, who use needles to inject illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
"We think that 6,300 number is on the conservative side," McCollum said. "So there are a lot of used sharps being disposed of in the valley every day."
The fear is that low-income patients are not disposing of their syringes properly. That puts waste disposal and recycling workers at risk of jabbing themselves with a used needle on the job.
"We don't think this happens very often," McCollum said. "There are no solid numbers on these incidents."
Help Now! Executive Director Larry Kahn knew that McCollum would have to get local pharmacies involved to solve this problem.
"We knew this was an issue affecting this entire area," Kahn said.
McCollum made inroads with Good Neighbor Pharmacy, a network that owns businesses in several cities throughout the county.
West Main Pharmacy in Medford agreed to offer inexpensive needle-disposal services after hearing McCollum's concerns. Owner Marc DiTommaso agreed to offer needle disposal for patients for a small donation of around $3 that will go to charity.
Other pharmacies took up the cause and now offer cheap needle disposal programs of their own, McCollum said.
"This was a great way for the community to come together to solve a problem," she said.
The program has put Gairson's mind at ease and helped reduce her money woes.
"Help Now! helped me immensely," she said. "There are times when I don't have $5 left at the end of the month after I pay my bills. This cheap syringe program is a big deal for me."
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.