‘It’s raining needles’: Drug crisis creates pollution threat

Discarded needles are seen at a heroin encampment in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 7. (DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)

LOWELL — Increasing numbers of discarded needles from drug users are turning up in cities and towns across the country, finding their way into rivers, parks and onto beaches.

In Portland, Maine, officials have collected more than 700 needles so far this year, putting them on track to handily exceed the nearly 900 gathered in all of 2016. In March alone, San Francisco collected more than 13,000 syringes, compared with only about 2,900 the same month in 2016.

People, often children, risk getting stuck by discarded needles, raising the prospect they could contract blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis or HIV.

Cities, often prodded by anxious residents, are responding to the growing threat by stepping up their tracking and collection efforts. Others are turning to needle exchange programs.