Syringe disposal box broken into in Norwich

ContributedA drop box for used syringes found damaged Monday morning in the city of Norwich is closed off until it can be repaired.

 A drop box for used syringes that was found damaged Monday in the city of Norwich has been cordoned off until repairs can be made, according to the property owner.

The property manager of the Eaton Center learned of the damaged box through social media Monday morning, according to property owner Randy Hadeed, who said he wasn’t even aware the kiosk existed prior to the break-in. 

The drop box, which Hadeed described as “like a mailbox you can drop into,” is placed in an intentionally discreet location behind a pumphouse, one of seven buildings in the complex at 19 Eaton Ave.

“It’s not visible to the public,” he said. “You have to know it’s there.”

The drop box is one of three issued by the state health department and maintained by the Southern Tier AIDS Program, according to Mary Kaminsky, the organization’s director of development.

“The minute we found out it was broken into, we took care of it,” she said. “They’re not easy to break into at all. It can happen, but I don’t recall it happening before.”

Unlike the plastic biohazard disposal units commonly found hanging in medical exam rooms, STAP’s syringe drop boxes are made of iron and bolted in place. 

By design, the kiosks are not surveilled by cameras or security to protect the anonymity of those who use them, Kaminsky said.

Photos of the broken box showing needles scattered on the ground circulated on Facebook Monday afternoon and created an uproar, with many criticizing the property based on the inaccurate assumption the drop box was part of a needle exchange program.

“You do something you think is good for the community, but you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” Hadeed said.

Hadeed responded with a Facebook post of his own in the Chenango County Scanner Nerds group.

“We cannot deny that Chenango County and everywhere else in our country has a drug epidemic,” he wrote. “Lots of people say they want to help, but when the problem reaches their door they cry NIMBY! (not in my backyard).”

“Some say we enable the problem. I ask, ‘would you rather the needles litter the streets of our town?’” he continued. “We at the Eaton Center will continue to help the community in any way we can, despite efforts such as this to put us in a negative light.”

Hadeed said the decision to host the syringe drop was made by the property manager, but aligns with his community-oriented philosophy.

“STAP came to us desperate,” Hadeed said. “Everyone else had turned them down.”

“It’s about trying to be a good corporate citizen,” he continued. “We do a lot of things to help the community.”

Twice a year the Eaton Center hosts a mobile mammogram unit from Lourdes Hospital, providing free cancer screening services to local residents who otherwise would not be able to afford them, he said. The property also rents in-kind to many community organizations, including the Colorscape Chenango Arts Festival.

STAP, which serves Chemung, Tompkins, Cortland, Chenango, Otsego, Delaware, Broome and Tioga counties, also administers fixed-site syringe exchanges in Ithaca, Johnson City and at the Eaton Center in Norwich, according to Emily England, director of harm reduction programs.

Syringe exchange programs are highly cost-effective at preventing HIV transmission, with each infection prevented representing between $30,000 and $50,000 in savings, according to Kaminsky.

“Collecting needles is keeping the community safe,” she said.

Hadeed said he was considering asking STAP to remove the unit in the wake of the break-in, but didn’t want to “cave in to the people just looking for something to be upset about.”

“Why am I going to compromise what we do for the community?” he said.

Hadeed said he believes the break-in was an isolated incident. Many of the property’s tenants are medical professionals who ship out samples for lab testing and safely dispose of used equipment without issue, he said.

“It’s a shame this was so blown out of proportion,” he said.

Local residents who find discarded syringes throughout the community are encouraged to report them to STAP, which will send staff members out to collect and safely dispose of them.

For more information, call 1-800-333-0892 or visit stapinc.org.

Used syringes may be dropped off at the following Chenango County locations:

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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