It was distressing to see on the Look East regional news magazine, then read in the Cambridge News yesterday, the news that a council worker had been jabbed in the leg by a used needle in a children's play area. But I found myself wishing that the former news outlet, part of the BBC, had researched their facts about the diseases that can be caught through contact with injecting equipment more thoroughly.
The needle had been wedged into the rope seat of a swing then, presumably, broken off, and had jabbed Jason Law, who works as a groundsman for Littleport Parish Council in East Cambridgeshire, through the trousers.
According to Look East, Mr Law would have "an agonising wait of 6-8 weeks" before he found out whether he would find if, God forbid, he had contracted anything from the needle.
This is tosh. The diseases most often caught from needles - Hepatitis B (against which any council should have workers like Mr Law vaccinated), Hepatitis C and HIV take a minimum of three months to show their ugly faces; in reality, negative test results are meaningless unless samples are taken six months after exposure. The Cambridge News got it right: "he has to have regular blood tests and injections over the next six months before, hopefully, being given the all-clear". The initial tests would have been at the behest of the behemoth which wants to stop schoolchildren play conkers, push gravestones over and now ban doormats: the insurance industry. Should Mr Law be found to already have an illness that might be caught through contact with needles or other injecting equipment - or indeed through something as innocent as a boyhood blood transfusion - any payout would be substantially reduced or indeed non-existent.
It's being presumed that the needle was put into the swing-seat maliciously, as well it may have been. On the other hand, there is a growing awareness among the various communities of injecting drug-users that they have a responsibility not to allow their equipment to be reused, which might risk transferring the very beasties that Mr Law has been put at risk of. In the absence of education otherwise, they often stick needles into trees and snap the attached syringes off (and the needles often later fall out and await a passing child in thin-soled sandals).
The correct procedure, of course, is to place the used injecting equipment into a burnbin/sharpsbin and take it to a needle-exchange, which is usually a pharmacist displaying one of the symbols to the right; or it may be within a drugs agency; from either the burnbins will be collected and incinerated, hence the unofficial name "sinbin" (incineration-bin).
What happened to Mr Law is of course the responsibility of the individual drug-user, and if this individual is found I hope they lock him away and throw away the key, both for what they are putting the groundsman through and the risk to which they exposed children at play. But, given that in the year to April 2009 hundreds of paedophiles and rapists were let off with cautions, I'm not hopeful.
What doesn't help as well is the refusal of some authorities to accept that a serious class A problem exists within their boundaries - perhaps a consequence of public bodies being allowed to rate their own performance?
Another stumbling-block can be groups of residents fearful for their house-prices putting pressure on the outlets where Methadone is dispensed to be closed, as they are unhappy at seeing what in reality is a minority of clients collect their heroin-substitute then sit around swallowing cheap strong lager or cider. They're looking at the wrong side of the equation: if off-licenses, including shops that sell alcohol from dawn till after dusk, were forced to raise the price of their Carlsberg Special Brew, White Lightning Cider and the rest - as the Conservative Party has pledged to make happen - the problem would much lessen.
The war on drugs, of course, must continue; but like any war, resources must be targeted on a pragmatic basis. For example, it would make more sense to decriminalise or even prescribe - under strictly controlled conditions - diamorphine (heroin) for the purposes of detoxification than to cede to the many attacks on the illegality of cannabis, because the problem of cannabis cultivation can largely be dealt with within our shores, whereas 95% of heroin comes from Afghanistan. Until a decision can be made as to whether to buy the products of the poppy fields at a higher rate than the Taliban offer and produce pharmaceutical opiates, or apply liberal helpings of Agent Orange (or some such herbicide) thereupon, all we can do is disconnect what supply from demand as we can and deal with the effects of what gets through.
But all this doesn't help Mr Law. I wish him as much peace as he can garner over the coming months, and hope he is given the support he so richly deserves for his devotion to his job.