ABC 22 News Team
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SPECIAL REPORT: Heroin Epidemic Hits Neighborhood Playground
SPECIAL REPORT -- As Miami Valley's Heroin addiction problem continues to grow worse, so do the concerns of discarded needles. In a controlled experiment we did with Wendy Doolittle, who has been working with heroin addicts at McKinley Hall for more than two decades, we tested to see how children react to fake drug needles on the playground. With parents present and with their permission, Doolittle helped us demonstrate how needles can be a risk for innocent children playing on the playground. That's because, unfortunately, sometimes kids will find the real thing.
"Clients talk about getting high in their cars, getting high in parks and when you do that you want to get rid of the needle when you are done because that is drug paraphernalia and if you get caught then there are charges," said Doolittle. "So I can easily see how people shoot up and just discard the needle wherever."
"It was between me and my neighbor's window and I had her come grab it with a trash bag," said parent Lori Taylor. "Then I found one going down to check my mail."
Newly released numbers from the Department of Health says 680 people died of heroin overdoses in 2012, up from 426 deaths in 2011, a 37 percent increase. Clark County Sheriff's deputies tell us they will probably make more heroin arrest this year than any other, and more heroin users means more heroin needles.
The fake needle we used for the experiment was not dangerous. In fact it was only a syringe with no actual needle. Plus Doolittle super-glued a cap on the syringe so the kids will not be harmed by it.
"I'm a little curious as to how they're going to react," said parent Steve Cornelli.
Consenting parents watched on to see what their child would do.
Most of the kids we experimented with did not even notice the needle.
"I don't think she even noticed it, she just stepped on it," said Cornelli.
Some saw it and completely shied away.
"I'm glad once she saw that she stayed away from it and didn't pick it up," said one Centerville mom, who asked to remain anonymous. "Makes me feel better."
"He's got it in his hand, he's playing with it," said grandmother Kim Honeyman.
"I found this," said her 4-year-old grandson.
What is it?" Honeyman asked.
"I don't know what it is," the grandson said.
After playing with it and trying to pull it apart, the 4 year old eventually brought it over to grandma.
Thankfully, there is no actual needle inside, but Doolittle says when the real thing is found, the needle will be exposed without a cap.
"Kids look at things and they take them apart and he could've easily been stuck with a needle," said Doolittle.
25 percent of the patients Doolittle works with are hepatitis-C positive.
"Then they've got to go through a series of test: Hep-C, HIV, you get tested for all of that because you don't know. We are talking about a needle could've been used by more than one person because there is a lot of sharing," said Doolittle.
Our last and maybe scariest test was with 7-year-old Eli Shaeffer.
"What the heck?," he says as he picked it up. "Hey mom do you feel like having a shot?"
"He thought it was fun. He thought it was possibly a toy," his mom Elizabeth said. "He had no idea the dangers of a dirty needle."
"It's safe to play with because it had nothing in it," said Eli as he pulled the cap off.
"That could have germs, that could have diseases on it," said Elizabeth. "You don't know where that came from so why did you pick it up?"
"I don't know. I just found it," Eli said. "Looks cool."
"There is some dialogue that certainly should take place with youth about addiction and what it looks like," said Doolittle. "I mean it is on TV enough that you can generate those conversations in your household with your children and talk about the dangers of drug addiction, drug use and talk about the paraphernalia that folks use."
If you happen to stumble across a needle, please discard of it properly before a child is able to pick it up.
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