Operation red box: A pilot project of needle and syringe drop boxes for injection drug users in east Baltimore

Elise Riley, Peter Beilenson, David Vlahov, Laura Smith, Matthew Koenig, T. Stephen Jones, Meg Doherty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We assessed the acceptability and the use of a community-based needle and syringe disposal project designed to serve injection drug users. In June 1996, three surplus U.S. mail collection boxes were painted red and used as syringe and needle drop boxes in locations with high drug use in East Baltimore. Acceptance of the drop boxes was measured by focus groups of residents, drug users, and police, held before and after project implementation. Use was measured by weekly counts of needles recovered from the red boxes. A sample of all deposited needles was randomly chosen for needle washing and subsequent HIV antibody testing. Community impact was measured by systematic surveys of needles discarded on public sidewalks, in areas with and areas without drop boxes. Before implementation, members of focus groups expressed concerns that drop boxes could convey mixed messages to youth (e.g., seeming to condone drug use), might result in increased loitering, and could further community stigmatization. After project implementation, all focus groups expressed support of project expansion. In the first 10 months, 2971 needles were collected. Of 156 needles tested, 10.9% were positive for HIV antibody. Needle counts on the street showed no significant change in red box areas compared with control areas. In this pilot project, red boxes were accepted by the community and drug users. Police officers also used the boxes to dispose of confiscated needles. Although limited in the number of drop boxes and follow-up time, this pilot project shows promise as a community-based method of safe needle disposal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S120-S125
JournalJournal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes and Human Retrovirology
Issue numberSUPPL.
StatePublished - Jul 1 1998


  • HIV
  • Intravenous drug use
  • Needle disposal
  • Needle exchange program
  • Substance abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Virology


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