Syringe disposal boxes are popping up around a Saint John neighbourhood in a bid to curb what's become the growing problem of used needles littering city streets.

The Avenue B Needle Exchange is tackling that problem head on.

Using buckets and old detergent containers, they’ve collected about 6,000 used needles that have been returned in the last two weeks.

The program is designed to prevent syringes from being discarded in public spaces.

"It wasn't a huge issue until, really, I think, about a year ago, and it has started increasing,” said Julie Dingwell, Avenue B’s executive director. “But when we think about it, the number of needles that we're providing people are drastically increasing too.”

More than 330,000 needles were given out here last year.

The biggest contributing factor is believed to be an increase in cocaine use, especially crack cocaine.

And in response to needles being found outside, five drop-boxes have been installed in hotspots.

“Pharmacies will not take them back unless you get them from the pharmacy, so a lot of the needles we’re getting are illicit needles,” said Erin Kelly, Needle Box project co-ordinator.

The project is being hailed as a step in the right direction by local police.

“The reality is that we have people struggling with addictions, we have people that in circumstances may just simply discard things without thinking and that's a poor decision and it puts us all at risk,” said Sgt. David Hartley-Brown of the Saint John Police Force.

And so far, at least at one location in the north end, the boxes appear to be working.

“In the last couple of weeks we've continued to do our screening of the neighbourhood,” said Barry Galloway, executive director of The One Change Inc., which operates a north end community centre. “We are not finding them, or at least we haven't in the last couple of weeks, but we getting them deposited in the needle box.”

Data will be collected after six months to determine how much these boxes are being used and if there are fewer needles on the streets.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Lyall.