Amber Brogden was horrified when her 5-year-old nephew picked up what she says was a used needle in a Rotorua park.
Brogden and her mother-in-law were at Kuirau Park last Saturday when her nephew Casey climbed down into an old footpool and saw a needle and syringe.
She said Casey had toy syringes that look similar, so he picked up the needle.
"He picked it up thinking it was a toy, then me and my mother-in-law both yelled at him to drop it.
"Everything just ran through my head ... what could have happened if he touched that other end?"
Brogden said Casey's father safely disposed of the needle while she quickly took her nephew to the bathroom and washed his hands thoroughly, and explained the danger to him.
She said the needle was lying less than five metres from a rubbish bin and that needles lying around could make people "really sick".
"Kids can pick it up - even adults can pick it up and not know."
She urged other caregivers to make sure children were wearing shoes and to keep a close eye on them in public.
"You never know what they're going to pick up."
Rotorua Lakes Council's manager of sport, recreation and environment Rob Pitkethley said the council's customer centre had no record of any reports relating to needles in the last year.
"Council contractors do an inspection of the inner city daily, starting at 3am, and a dedicated parks team do a daily check of all parks and reserves in our community," he said.
"City guardians also alert InfraCore contractors if they come across anything during their daily patrols."
He said anyone who comes across hazardous material should immediately call the council, which will send a contractor to remove it.
Midlands Needle Exchange regional manager Raewyn Crow said needles being improperly disposed of was not a big problem overall in Rotorua.
"I don't often hear of it," she said.
The Midlands Needle Exchange offers a free service for people to dispose of their used needles, aiming to stop the spread of blood-borne viruses like hepatitis C and HIV.
Anyone can bring needles to the Rotorua exchange on Hinemoa St, regardless of what it has been used for, and they will dispose of it safely.
Crow said there was "no need" for people to dispose of needles improperly.
"Harm reduction is about accepting that people do what they do, and supporting them without any judgement."
She said their ethos was "support, don't punish".
"The biggest thing our people experience is stigma. Stigma and shame.
"Treat people like people ... which will have people more open about bringing things back.
"It's about reducing risk to the clients, and reducing harm to the community."
Crow said it was "really important" that people dispose of their needles properly.
"If you got stuck by a used needle, imagine the germs."
She advised parents to teach their children not to touch needles, and to get a parent if they see one.
If community members come across needles in public, Crow said they should come and get a disposal container from their organisation and dispose of it that way.
They should pick up the needle with tongs, preferably wearing gloves, and return it to Needle Exchange for proper destruction, she said.
"Whatever reduces harm for people in the community is what we do."