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Health authority says it will try to retrieve more syringes from Kelowna needle exchange program

Image Credit: Julie Cancela
May 16, 2016 - 1:19 PM

COMPLAINTS ABOUT DISCARDED SYRINGES ON THE RISE

KELOWNA - The Interior Health Authority has promised Kelowna city councillors it will step up efforts to retrieve syringes given out to intraveneous drug users, senior medical health officer Dr. Trevor Corneil says.

Outreach Urban Health, a program of the health authority, gives out 14,000 syringes a month in the Central Okanagan, Kelowna city councillors heard, directly exchanging about 7,600 and collecting another 3,600 from other sources.

Corneil told councillors during a workshop on harm reduction, best practices now calls for needle exchange operators to “flood the market” with syringes, long ago having abandoned the strict (and much less effective) one-for-one policy that governed the first versions of the program in Vancouver.

What happens to the other 2,800 syringes given out each month is unknown and some councillors were less than impressed with the practice having received complaints from residents about finding syringes in parks and outside local businesses.

“My perception is we’re creating a problem and the public’s perception is we’re not doing our job,” Coun. Luke Stack said.

“This is a public safety issue. If you’ve got your three-year-old granddaughter finding a needle in the park, that’s an unacceptable outcome, even though you could argue it improves the outcome for another population," Stack said. "I think not enough is being done to ensure other people are not being put at risk.”

Corneil told councillors the overall benefit to public health far outweighs the statistically negligible risk of infection from a needle stick but Coun. Maxine Dehart said the average Kelowna resident doesn’t know or care about best practices for harm reduction.

“They are just concerned about the threat to their family,” Dehart said. “The perception out there for the average person is you’d better run down to emergency. They would be frightened to death.”

Coun. Ryan Donn said he understood the concept behind harm reduction but couldn’t help thinking about a robbery he’d heard of where the person had threatened a gas station clerk with a syringe.

“When I hear you’re flooding the market with syringes, I hear you’re flooding it with weapons,” Donn said.

Corneil told councillors the health authority is aware of concerns about the apparent increase in reports of discarded syringes to city bylaw and will work with them any way it can to reduce the numbers.

But he also reminded councillors needle exchange programs are a proven harm reduction strategy that has been in place in Kelowna for many years, with no evidence syringes are a serious public health threat even when improperly discarded.

“Making sure clean needles are available has worked and it’s time to move on,” Corneil said.


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