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The MMA is announcing the winners of its 8th Grade Essay Contest, with the top essays addressing problems like improperly disposed needles, racism and high housing costs, while also presenting some solutions.
The contest encouraged the potential local leaders of the future to reflect on the role of key elected officials and municipal activities by describing what they would do as an elected leader of their city or town to make it a better place to live.
First-place winner Julia MacDonald of Malden will read her essay, “The Danger that Hides Everywhere,” at the MMA’s Annual Meeting & Trade Show during the Friday banquet dinner on Jan. 19. For her research on the problem of improperly disposed needles related to the opioid epidemic, and her winning essay, MacDonald was awarded $500.
Matthew Paquette of Milton’s essay tackling racism in his community earned him second-place and $250, and Noah Lawry of West Tisbury’s essay exploring the housing crisis earned him third place and $200.
At a time when cities and towns find it increasingly difficult to fill important positions on volunteer boards or to reach quorums for town meetings, the MMA’s 8th Grade Essay Contest, along with its 3rd Grade Poster Contest, seek to expand students’ knowledge of local government and instill an interest in civic participation at a young age, leading to a more informed constituency and greater engagement by residents.
The contests are held in conjunction with the MMA’s 39th Annual Meeting & Trade Show that takes place this Friday, Jan. 19, and Saturday, Jan. 20, at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.
Prizes are sponsored by the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association.
MacDonald’s award-winning essay is published in full below:
Imagine that you are a parent. You take your child to the playground. They play and have the widest smile on their face. It will be a memory you will remember, but wait. They fall, as they get up you notice something on them. That something is a used needle. They cry and cry because they are hurt. As a parent, you fear the worst. Who would think that someone could be as careless to leave a used needle where kids could get injured by it? Well thousands of used needles get left behind by drug addicts in unsanitary and unsafe ways. Needles get left in playgrounds, baseball dugouts, sidewalks, streets, as well as beaches causing a great deal of unsuspecting people to get possibly injured. This may seem like absent minded littering, but the real issue is opioid abuse. Opioids such as heroin need to be injected into the bloodstream. According to the article “America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse,” presented by Nora D. Volkow, M.D., at the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control on May 14, 2014, “An estimated 467,000 people are addicted to heroin in the U.S.” (National Institute). A possible solution to this needle problem would be to set up shard boxes or have volunteers clean up parks and playgrounds.
As said in the CBS News article, “It’s raining needles: Drug crisis creates danger to public, environment” written in early July of this year, officials in Portland, Maine, have accumulated more than 700 needles. At this rate they will surpass the total of 900 used needles they collected in all of 2016. If a person were to have their skin punctured by a used needle they would have to go through an abundance of testing to make sure that they haven’t retained any blood-borne diseases. Although the chance of retaining a disease is slim, there is still a chance. Diseases that can be transferred through used needles include HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis B and C. There is also the danger of leftover drugs being injected into the body (CBS).
There are a few reports of kids finding and being punctured by used needles. According to the CBS article, “It’s raining needles: Drug crisis creates danger to public, environment,” a 6-year-old girl confused an old needle for a thermometer, and put it into her mouth. Another child was jabbed by a needle discarded on the grounds of a Utah elementary school. Another minor stepped on one while rejoicing on a beach in New Hampshire (CBS). There are a few things being done to aid the used needle problem. One solution being done to solve this problem is creating SIFs (safe injection facilities). SIFs are a sanitary environment, with sterile injection equipment. SIFs are observed by healthcare professionals to prevent overdose deaths, as well as give advice to health and social services (Forbes). Another solution already being done are needle exchanges. A needle exchange is where an injecting drug user receives sterile needles but is required to return the same number of needles. One possible solution to this problem would be to place shard boxes outside of places that can properly dispose of the needle. To get the shard boxes, a company could donate them with advertisements on one of the sides, so the company can still make money. Another solution could be to gather volunteers to help clean up parks. The volunteers should wear gloves and use metal detectors to make sure they don’t miss any needles. The volunteers would be taught the proper way to pick up the needle, and the needles can be properly disposed by a local hospital.
Needles being left everywhere is a danger to society. The opioid crisis is sweeping the nation. It is important that we help to spread the message to minors that an addiction is hard to break and can severely harm them. Preventing early exposure to drugs is important, to prevent a possible addiction in the future. If a person gets punctured by a needle and leftover drugs get inserted into their system, it can hook them on drugs. It can also expose them to blood-borne disease. If I was a city official, I would create a program where teens volunteer and clean up parks. I would have it be a program for teens because drug addictions can start young and it will show them another reason not to turn to drugs. For the program I would first get a hospital to dispose of the needles safely. Then I would get materials to safely pick up the needles. Before the teens go out, I would have them learn about the used needles, what harm they can do, and how to pick up the needles in a cautious way. Cleaning up needles is a small solution to help solve a much bigger problem.