By LAUREL BUSBY
Many issues, ranging from needle safety to the coronavirus, were considered at a presentation by Common Ground on March 11 at lifeguard headquarters on PCH (across from Potrero Canyon).
Carol Newark, a prevention advocate at Venice Family Clinic’s Common Ground, had been invited to provide a demonstration of the proper method for disposing of needles discarded by users of heroin and methamphetamine. The needles, which have been found locally at both homeless encampments and the beach, can potentially carry diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.
Newark and other attendees, including lifeguard Capt. Eric Howell, police officer Rusty Redican, and members of the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness (PPTFH), also discussed varied issues connected to drug addiction and the homeless population.
In fact, Capt. Howell mentioned that he had once pricked his foot on a discarded needle while running barefoot on the beach and had not gotten ill. Still, if you do stumble across a used needle and it pierces your skin, it’s important to immediately wash the area with soap and water and then go to urgent care, Newark said.
The doctor can prescribe a medication that, if taken soon after exposure, is 99 percent effective in preventing HIV, she said. In addition, Hepatitis C can now be cured with a 12-week course of medication, so both potential illnesses can be addressed.
Ideally, though, if needles are found, the best course of action is to dispose of them without getting pricked. In order to do so at the beach, a lifeguard should be informed. Each lifeguard truck has a plastic container on board to safely dispose of needles, and the headquarters also has a container.
However, if needles are found elsewhere in the community, they must be taken further afield, such as to UCLA’s hospital or the Malibu sheriff’s station, 27050 Agoura Road, which has a drop-off slot near the entrance. Another option is to call 311 for advice on the most current drop-off locations.
Newark said Common Ground provides needle cleanup in addition to distributing sterile needles and associated supplies to drug users to reduce the spread of diseases through sharing needles. Because some of the PPTFH volunteers and workers find used needles at times, Newark demonstrated the proper way to dispose of them.
First, thick, puncture-proof gloves should be worn, and a small plastic canister for needle waste or “sharps” should be placed on the ground. Next, a standard trash grabber can be used to pick up the needles and place them in the container. It’s important to leave the container on the ground and not hold it in the other hand, as that hand could accidentally be pierced if a needle misses the container—an easy thing to do, due to the clumsy nature of using thick gloves and a grabber.
In Pacific Palisades, needles, which are typically small (5/16- to 1/2-inch) have been found at several locations, including 30 in a large tent along PCH in the Corona Del Mar Bluffs, 15 at an abandoned homeless camp on Temescal Canyon below Radcliffe, 40 in an Upper Via Bluffs camp, 15 off Palisades Drive on the dirt road behind the Starbucks shopping center, and three in the pedestrian beach tunnel at Will Rogers State Beach, according to Sharon Kilbride of PPTFH.
Newark noted that other drug paraphernalia is often discovered alongside needles, such as cookers, which resemble bottle caps with a resin inside them, tourniquets, and saline water, which is used to mix drugs or clean out the nose. Based on such evidence, she can often identify which drugs have been used.
For example, “You have to cook heroin,” Newark said. “But you don’t have to cook meth,” so the remnants are different.
Meeting attendees then discussed what to do if someone seems to be overdosing. Alex Gittinger, a social worker with The People Concern, said that symptoms include blue lips or fingernails and a deep snore like “a death rattle.” Sometimes drool may be present.
If uncertain, one can try to rouse a seemingly unconscious person by pinching their shoulder or stroking one’s knuckles across their nose or sternum. If the individual is not responding and seems to be in a dire situation, call 911. The medication Narcan, a nasal spray, can reverse an overdose, if used in time.
Narcan may also be purchased at a pharmacy and administered with training. Unfortunately, this administration can be dangerous, because overdose victims often react angrily at having an overdose counteracted. In essence, their “high” has been interrupted, even though that “high” was killing them.
“They can come out swinging,” Capt. Howell said.
Officer Redican agreed. “Call 911 and let the fire department or police department deal with them in an emergency fashion.”
A fast-emerging worry on the minds of some attendees was the coronavirus and its potential effect on the homeless population.
To help the situation, City Councilman Mike Bonin’s office funded hand-washing stations in Westside homeless encampments. Forty were installed last week. LA County’s Department of Health has also been working to address the issue by providing guidelines to local homeless shelters and searching for temporary housing for any homeless people who do catch the disease.
Luckily, there is no evidence yet that homeless people in Pacific Palisades or Malibu have been infected, Gittinger said on March 16. At the meeting, he mentioned that they weren’t the initial at-risk group, which instead consisted of people who had the financial means to travel overseas.
“Coronavirus doesn’t come out of the homeless community; they would be victims,” he noted.