Dozens of hypodermic needles are being found in our area and police say that points to an opioid epidemic and a real health threat for our community.

"I just happened to look down and there were four of them there," said Ragina McKinnon, who lives in Boise. "I was in shock."

We found her story isn't uncommon. Used hypodermic needles are being stumbled upon all across the Treasure Valley.

"It's a little disturbing actually because first of all they were just laying in the street and who knows how long they had been there," said another Boise resident, who doesn't want to be named.

Capt. Ron Winegar, with the Boise Police Department, says in the past year there have been 55 reported cases in Boise just alone, and the numbers keep climbing.

"The rate, it appears, has gone up because in just the last couple of months we've had 14 calls similar to those for calls for service," said Winegar. "It's a problem because we know what the dangers are associated with dirty needles."

Dangers like disease, violence, criminal activity and even death.

"It's scary," said Ron Stevenson, Drug Free Idaho executive director.

Drug Free Idaho is a non-profit that works a lot with kids. Many of them are reporting finding hypodermic needles.

"I mean these are our kids," said Stevenson. "This is who we need to be protecting the most."

How can we protect them? How can we solve the issue of finding used needles in our streets and front yards? Stevenson says prevention is key.

"It's so much easier to deal with things on the front end then on the back end, " said Stevenson.

Drug Free Idaho has been working with the Boise Police Department for years in an effort to talk with kids about just saying no.

"We try to get them by sixth or seventh grade," said Stevenson.

He says in light of the increase in hypodermic needles being found they will now start a new conversation in schools.

"If you see a needle, if you find something like that, do not touch it. Tell somebody and let them deal with it," said Stevenson.

It's an important point, he says, we all need to remember. Winegar says if not done properly, you could be compromising your health. Hepatitis and AIDS viruses can survive several days on a tossed hypodermic needle.

"We never advise people to pick those things up because you don't know what may be lurking there," said Winegar.

He says police will come out to get rid of them for you, and because hypodermic needles indicate illegal drug activity, they will take a report so they can try and find out who was using them. Unfortunately, he says, many times getting arrested and serving time is what it takes for drug addicts to get clean.

"Which is sad, but it's also a message to kids, to everyone in the community, that this can touch your family and it can be a problem in your family just like it can be a problem in my family," said Winegar. We have to be vigilant, aware and ready to do something to help."

Police and Drug Free Idaho say drug prevention always starts at home. Talk to your kids about the dangers of using drugs and about what to do if they see hypodermic needles; walk away and tell an adult. If you're that adult, again, call police to dispose of them. If you really want to pick up the hypodermic needles and throw them away, police say make sure to wear gloves and use a hard container with a lid.