CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department is using a new device to dispose used syringes from its needle exchange program.

Health officials introduced the Sterilis, LLC machine Monday.

The used needles are placed into the machine, which then sterilizes the waste and grinds it up for about 30 minutes at 280 degrees. The waste is then turned it into a confetti-like substance.

“There’s a hot plate on the bottom, so water heats up on that hot plate and rises the temperature in the vessel and that will kill everything,” explained Mike Ferris, vice president of marketing at Sterilis.

Ferris said the machine is being used at the department to address the drug epidemic. The KCHD has collected more than 200,000 needles since the start of the needle exchange program in Dec. 2015, but Ferris said there are still more needles that need to be taken off the streets.

“There are 7.8 billion needles around the United States that are not generated though the health care system and those are the ones that we’re trying to address,” he said.

Needles are tied to the heroin problem, Ferris said.

“Anytime you hear about the opioid crisis, the byproduct of the opioid crisis is that other hidden crisis which are needles and they have to go some place,” he said.

The department’s harm reduction clinic in Charleston sees about 300 people per week. According to a news release, more than 85 percent of those patients return syringes.

Dr. Michael Brumage, health officer at KCHD, said using the Sterilis machine is a safe way to get rid of those needles.

“There are needles that are found throughout our community. We’re happy to take those needles and now we have a way to destroy them in a way that renders those hazardous materials harmless and it makes it safer for the public at large,” Brumage said.

The portable device is about the size of a photocopier. The machine is supposed to reduce waste volume by 80 percent. Brumage said they’ve already disposed a lot of needles through the process.

“We’ve done about eight runs and each one of those are about four a gallon, so we’ve destroyed about 32 gallons worth of needles so far, but we’re brand new with the machine, so that number will go up very quickly as we continue to use it,” he said.

Brumage said they ask anyone who wants to bring in used needles to place them in a safe container.

The department holds a harm reduction clinic every Wednesday.

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