Teachers Pause Playground Games to Pick Up Needles

Boston public school grounds has become a dumping ground for used needles.

Most soccer games involve time outs. But, coaches usually call them to trade a player, give a pep talk, or help a player recover from a fall.

At Boston’s public schools, however, soccer games are paused to remove used syringes from the field.

Teachers must stop recess to get dirty needles off the playground. Things have gotten so bad on what has become known as “Methadone Mile” that students are starting to rally for their own safety.

Elementary Students Rally for the Cause

“Methadone Mile” is a section of Boston’s Massachusetts Avenue that is lined with methadone clinics and illicit drug use. People come to this strip to get high and get sober. Treatment providers hope programs can turn the tide for this area. Optimists hope to change the nickname of the neighborhood to “Recovery Road.”

For now, the reality is this: The area is literally littered with evidence of drug use. Nearby schools like Orchard Gardens K-8 institution are just blocks from Boston’s busiest addiction treatment programs. As a result, their property has become the dumping ground for used needles, putting children in danger.

Orchard Gardens School Nurse Sue Burchill admits, “You can’t even sit in the bleachers in our little field because they shoot up underneath them.” Burchill created pamphlets to instruct students on what to do if they encounter a needle. The pamphlet informs them to stop, turn around and tell an adult.

School officials worry this won’t be enough. During fall and winter, leaves and snow easily hide needles, increasing the risk of student contact. The school has offered additional solutions, including cleanup crews and needle-safe barrels. However, the school simply doesn’t have enough manpower to keep the area clean.

In response to the concern, students, school employees and parents held a rally in December to raise awareness and support for this issue. Young children stood outside chanting “Safe students, safe schools” and holding signs reading “United for Safe Schools” and “Safe Schools = No Needles.”

Too Little, Too Late?

Already aware of the problem, the city has tried to improve the situation by creating “safe spaces” where drug users can get high – away from schools and other public areas. They’ve also tried to beef up treatment services with outreach workers.

It’s hard to tell if these efforts have made a difference. In addition to the littered playgrounds, nearby neighborhoods are also suffering. Neighborhood association president George Stergios reports, “Residents still find discarded needles in their yards and people injecting drugs on their front steps or passed out in alleys behind their homes.”

The truth is, change doesn’t happen overnight. Efforts must continue to successfully transform this area from Methadone Mile to Recovery Road. It will require support from all parts of the community to create a safe place for recovery…and recess.


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