OK let’s get one thing straight before we start. I’m not obsessive about returns and I don’t think needle programmes should be as focused on them as most seem to be, but we live in the real world. A world where people become really angry when someone dumps used works near their home/school/shop/park. Because of this exchanges come under pressure to limit the equipment they give out.
So there's pressure for the local needle programme to put limits on the equipment it gives out, although this may seem a logical approach there is plenty of evidence based guidance not to do this as it actually increases hoarding behaviour etc. Besides we have a problem with not enough sterile equipment getting out already, putting limits on further supply isn't going to do anything but increase sharing behaviours. So here are some alternative approaches.
- Advertise needle drops
- Next time your local paper has that dreaded front page story about needles found near a school field (or any other place guaranteed to cause dread and fear in their readers), get the article copied and blown up to A3 size at your local printers.
- Put the article up in your exchange and make sure you point it out to visitors, talk to them about how things like this put the exchange under pressure. You’ll find that the majority of visitors will get as angry as everyone else, the difference is in a lot of cases they may have some idea of who is likely to drop equipment.
- I’ve used this one a couple of times myself and returns increased due to peer pressure.
- Incentives for returns
- By now we are all familiar with loyalty schemes like the ones the local coffee shop use. Why not do the same for your clients?
- Get a few books of raffle tickets and use petty cash to get some kind of prize, make it something people will actually want (or even negotiate with local businesses like gyms for a free weeks trial or a months cinema pass from the nearest Showcase). Every time a client brings back equipment they get a ticket for the weekly/monthly draw.
- Your manager might take a bit of convincing at first but if you can improve the percentage of returns to the point the commissioners stop shouting, then they will get used to the idea.
- Your Drug Action Team (or equivalent if you live outside the UK) should have details of hotspots for needle drops. It may be time to pay these places a visit; if people are there talk to them, ask them if they have seen people leaving pins about (much less likely to get you a smack in the mouth than saying “stop leaving your pins here”). If no one is around leave some info on your service and the pressures it faces, maybe even with some fresh cin bins.
- External drop bins
- Depending on your building it may be possible to attach a wall mounted bin to the outside. The advantage of this is clients have somewhere to drop off when your service is closed. When services I've worked in have had these they've always been well used.
- Needle Amnesty
- Have a needle amnesty for your service. This would involve every staff member pushing the returns agenda on each exchange. You could also offer to collect pins from users homes (assuming you can convince your manager). This works best when you get every service in the city or town to work together, but be careful not to do them too often as they loose their impact. Nothing goes as unnoticed as a message you see every day.
- Talk to your clients
- I didn’t do this one first because if you are taking the time to read this you probably already do this. But talking to clients about why you need to have returns and why dropped pins cause both you and them problems is one of the best ways to get a culture of returns.
- Run a quality service
- Like the point above, this one is a no-brainer. The better quality the service, the more likely that people will listen to what you say.
Although returns are more an issue of public perception, they are something we do need to keep on top of. If only for the survival of the services we deliver.
DEFRA's guide to reducing drug related litter.
Nigel Brunsdon is the owner of Injecting Advice.com. He's been working in harm reduction since the 1990's, although he's previously a frontline needle programme worker he now spends most of his time developing online resources for drugs workers and users.