JEFFERSON — Law enforcement agencies across Jefferson County have drug disposal boxes in their front lobbies, but one of those departments is getting more than it bargained for.
The Jefferson Police Department consistently is forced to dispose of sharps — a form of biomedical waste that includes needles and syringes — even though it explicitly says it only is for medications.
Near the box in the Jefferson Police Department lobby, there are four signs outlining exactly what it is for: Pills, creams, liquids, prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, pet medicines and inhalers.
The signs also say sharps, needles, epi-pens and syringes should be put in a rigid box and taken to the Jefferson County Health Department or the Watertown Health Department.
But still, the box gets filled with sharps which end up jamming the drawer and making it difficult for police to empty it, according to Jefferson Police Capt. Dale Lutz.
Forcing the cops to dispose of sharps is a health risk, according to Lutz.
Getting stuck with a sharp can pose a risk of blood-borne diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis.
If an officer has to go out on a call to pick up a needle or syringe off the street, that’s fine, Lutz said, because it protects the public. But if the officer cleaning out the disposal box has to wear protective gloves to prevent getting stuck, Lutz said, it’s an annoying aspect of an otherwise important public service provided by the police.
“The biggest problem is people putting stuff in there that they’re not supposed to,” Lutz said. “Obviously, there’s not supposed to be any illegal narcotics in there, and there’s not supposed to be needles, but people just seem to really struggle with that.”
Jefferson police being forced to dispose of sharps left in their own lobby can be especially frustrating because of the department’s proximity to the Jefferson County Health Department, which will dispose of them for free.
The Jefferson County Health Department is less than one mile away from the Jefferson police building, a two-minute drive.
“It should be the very easiest because the Health Department is right up the street,” Lutz said. “But it could be some of the same two or three people that are doing it all the time. When you bring a sharps container down here and you throw it in our box, you know that it’s just somebody being lazy or someone doesn’t want to pay for it.”
For Lutz and the rest of the Jefferson Police Department, sharps have been a reality of the drug-disposal box since it was introduced in 2015.
But the five other law enforcement agencies in the county who keep drug-disposal boxes said they haven’t experienced the same problem.
This baffled Lutz, who said he has to worry about it every time the box is emptied.
“Almost every time, there’s some type of sharps in there, or even just a syringe,” Lutz said. “I don’t know. I don’t understand why it’s just us then.”
While the box isn’t going anywhere, Lutz is working with the Jefferson County Drug-Free Coalition to come up with a solution.
The box is located right next to the department’s dispatcher window, but staff can’t monitor what people are putting in the box 24/7, Lutz said. What people can do is wait at the window and ask a dispatcher what they’re supposed to do with the drugs they’re disposing.
“All you’d have to do is just to ask,” Lutz said. “But they come in and they they just throw it in there and, and leave. And that’s the problem with it.”
For now, the solution put forth by Lutz and the coalition is a better sign with a more clear description of what’s allowed in both Spanish and English.
But still, Lutz is happy to have the box because it stops pills from ending up on the street or flushed down toilets.
“I think it’s a great thing,” Lutz said. “Instead of flushing it down the toilet and everything getting into the water systems and stuff like that. So it is a good thing. And I want to see it continue.”
The Jefferson Police Department drug-disposal box is accessible during the department’s office hours of 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In September, the Jefferson Police Department is expected to hold a public drug takeback at The Drug Store in Jefferson.
In addition to the Jefferson Police Department, there are drug-disposal sites at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in Jefferson, the Johnson Creek Police Department, Lake Mills Police Department, Palmyra Public Safety Department, Waterloo Police Department and the Fort Atkinson Police Department.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the Jefferson drug takeback would be held at Walgreen's, it's been corrected to say the actual location, which is The Drug Store.