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New Mexico county wants app to track found heroin needles

August 10, 2019
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A package of unused syringes and needles is found next to a vacant building in northeast Albuquerque, New Mexico, where crews attempted to clear the lot of used needles and other heroin paraphernalia on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. Bernalillo County officials have launched a digital mapping tool to track the places where heroin needles and syringes are found in New Mexico's largest city. (AP Photo/Mary Hudetz)
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A package of unused syringes and needles is found next to a vacant building in northeast Albuquerque, New Mexico, where crews attempted to clear the lot of used needles and other heroin paraphernalia on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. Bernalillo County officials have launched a digital mapping tool to track the places where heroin needles and syringes are found in New Mexico's largest city. (AP Photo/Mary Hudetz)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A smattering of heroin hotspots dotted an online map of New Mexico’s largest city on Friday as officials announced the new mapping tool, saying they plan to use it to track drug-use migration across the area.

At a news conference, Bernalillo County officials said the GIS map will show the public where used needles and syringes have been collected by county cleanup crews and volunteer groups in Albuquerque and elsewhere across their jurisdiction.

It also will show how many needles have been picked up at a single location, providing data that officials say can be used to make sound policy decisions and learn more about the habits of drug users.

On Friday, a cleanup crew of mostly county workers gathered at an abandoned property in northeast Albuquerque, where they collected 84 needles — the first batch to be logged in real-time — into the GIS map at bernco.gov/needles.

“What we’re hoping when the public starts to use this app is that we’ll start to get an idea of where the trouble spots are,” said Tim Gaulden, a GIS analyst for Bernalillo County.

Other counties have attempted similar initiatives in the past as the U.S. battles an opioid crisis that preliminary government statistics show resulted in about 68,000 overdose deaths nationwide last year. However, officials in Bernalillo County are not aware of efforts underway elsewhere to provide online heat maps of discarded heroin needles, said Evan Gonzales, a spokesman for the county’s Department of Behavioral Health Services.

In New Mexico, overdose deaths from opioids peaked at roughly 400 fatalities in 2014 and have since declined slightly. In 2017, federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures show 332 people in New Mexico died from opioid overdoses.

At the most recent needle cleanup event in Albuquerque, a small group of mostly county workers fanned out to search a corner lot for syringes and needles.

Jessica Jaramillo, a program director for the Department of Behavioral Health Services, scoured a dirt path dividing two vacant buildings, one brick and the other cinderblock.

“Where you find one, you usually find more,” she said after spotting a syringe on the ground.

A few steps later, she and others encircled a shallow pile of debris and packaging behind the buildings.

In total, Jaramillo said she personally had collected about 45 syringes, which she placed into a plastic container using a tool to grab at the waste rather than touch it herself.

“It’s something that needs to be done so our kids can feel good playing in parks,” said Enrique Cardiel, executive director of the Bernalillo County Community Health Council, a local nonprofit.

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This story replaces a previous version to correct the first name of Tim Gaulden, the GIS analyst.

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