Hypodermic needles found on BART, agency joins program to treat addiction

OAKLAND (KGO) -- As people use drugs in BART stations and discard needles on trains the transit agency says it's doing more than just cleaning up the hazardous waste. BART is part of a pilot program aimed at treating addiction.

On a BART ride into San Francisco from the East Bay Thursday ABC 7 News Reporter Katie Utehs snapped a picture of hypodermic needles and cigarette butts strewn across two seats.

RELATED: 'It's raining needles:' Drug crisis creates pollution threat in SF

"It's a big problem, it's a problem larger than BART," said BART Spokesman Chris Filippi. "It's unfortunate. It's happening with transit agencies across the country. It's happening, in fact, in public places across the country," said Filippi.

If you see a discarded needle, first of all, don't touch it. Secondly, BART wants to know about it right away. Go to the intercom in the rear of the train car, call the attendant and tell them which car you're riding in.

"We want to address this as quickly as we can before the train gets to the end of the line because we need to clean that right away," said Filippi.

BART is hiring 13 more people specially trained to clean dangerous waste. For the last several weeks they've deployed mid-line to clean reported problems as opposed to waiting until a train reaches the end of the line.

It's a treatment, not a cure. Pictures taken by an ABC assignment editor during his commute show a man at Embarcadero Station. He shoots-up then passes out.

"We want to try to address this in a long-term situation so hopefully we have fewer people with these issues coming into the BART system," explained Filippi about BART's new approach.

RELATED: City neighbors divided over needle disposal boxes in SF parks

BART has teamed-up with San Francisco's Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program, known as LEAD. Two BART officers patrol, looking for addicts to help in addition to their regular duties.

"They're looking for opportunities to find non-violent drug offenders and give them a choice that's different from being involved in the legal system," said Filippi.

"I think that that's a phenomenal idea actually that's it's not just about punishing someone for using the drugs, but it's like actually getting them into a program," said Manny Martinez, a San Leandro resident who commutes on BART.

LEAD is a modeled after a Seattle program and funded by a $5.9 million. Since BART joined in October 15 drug users have accepted help.

Click here for more details on LEAD.
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