The area of the creek by the Sistersville City Park was a scary place to be last week as 10 syringes were found in the general area, one by a 10-year-old child who was stuck by the point of a needle protruding from one of them.
"A 10-year-old was playing in the creek by the Dairy Queen and found this 'thing' that he didn't know what it was," said Sistersville Chief of Police Ben Placer, who is continuing to investigate the incident. "As kids will do, he picked it up, and it stuck him."
Immediately alarmed, the child's parent contacted the police.
"This is scary," Placer said. "This is the second child in a year that has found one of these things and got stuck by it." As reported previously, on July 26, 2013, a six-year-old girl had been reportedly poked by a needle from a syringe found at Timber Ridge apartments.
"I walked up and down the creek right then, and found nine more," Placer said. "One in the culvert going between the Dairy Queen and the park, seven under the bridge at the park, and one near the small ball field. Ten in total."
"This is to close to our kids," he said. "Too close and too scary."
The chief said he had no way of knowing if the syringes had been used or were new, because even after used, caps are generally placed back onto the needle section of the syringes by the user. Also, there is no way of knowing how the syringes ended up where they were found.
"It could be as innocent as discarded needles being thrown away by an individual taking insulin shots, but not put in the proper waste container and coming out of a trash bag. They could be all be brand new and never opened and somehow lost. But they could also be used needles from a drug user, tossed away carelessly by the side of the road, in tall grass or in the creek. We just don't know."
Unfortunately, for Chief Placer and the community at large, he has no way of testing the syringes to see what, if anything, they contained.
"We send evidence we collect to the West Virginia State Police Lab," Placer said. "And they do not test any needles or syringes."
In fact, the West Virginia State Police Laboratory Field Manual states quite clearly their non-acceptance of syringes of any kind for testing in Section 4.1.5 Syringes, which states:
"Under no circumstances will used syringes be accepted. They pose a health hazard to all personnel handling such items. Only in cases of tampering where hospital personnel are suspected of substituting a liquid in place of a factory pre-loaded syringe will syringes be analyzed. These will be analyzed only if the needle is removed and the syringe is unused."
Thus the hands of local law enforcement who find such items in any of their investigations are tied.
"Because we can't get them tested, the child that was stuck with the syringe will have to get blood work done, possibly several times over a period of time to make sure he has not contracted anything from it," Placer said.
"It's pretty bad when a kid can't even play in the creek anymore."
So, where does the chief go from here?
"I'll continue to investigate," he said. "And we'll continue to monitor the creek and the park and other areas where these things might end up. Officer Mitch Corley and myself will also be speaking to the students at Sistersville Elementary School later this week about the dangers of picking up things like this. We'll explain how important it is, for their own safety, that if they find something like this they should get their parents immediately. They should not touch it, they should not pick it up."
Last week, permission slips were sent home with the students at SES for parents to sign, granting permission for their children to participate in this awareness program. It is not known at this time how many students will be in attendance.
Chief Placer's hope is that every student be able to attend.
"We want our children to be safe," he said. "If I found 10 in one walk, who knows how many more are out there posing a danger to any of our kids who are just outside playing?"