Big downturn in complaints about discarded needles in Vernon leaves questions - InfoNews

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Big downturn in complaints about discarded needles in Vernon leaves questions

January 24, 2018 - 4:32 PM

VERNON - The number of discarded needles found around Vernon doesn’t seem to be the problem it once was, according to social agencies.

In 2016, a staggering number of used and unused needles were being found in public spaces — about 700 in the first six months alone.

“There seemed to be this explosion of needles that ended up in public spaces,” Annette Sharkey of the North Okanagan Social Planning Council says.

READ MOREVernon to map hotspots, look at disposal resources after hundreds of discarded needles found

But that trend appears to be changing, Sharkey says. The Sharps Action Team, which was created in response to the uptick in discarded needles, has been reporting a significant drop in the quantity of syringes being found — so much so that the team has actually closed.

“What we found is the partners who would normally get the calls and keep track of the number of needles were getting very few calls,” Sharkey says. “Not to say that no needles are being found in the community, but we’re doing a better job of cleaning them up more quickly.”

During its roughly two year lifespan, the Sharps Team conducted monthly clean-ups and worked with the street population to address needle disposal. The team also connected with businesses to educate community members on how to safely pick up and dispose of needles, Sharkey says. She believes part of the recent shift has to do with community members being part of the solution, and taking responsibility for picking up needles when they are discovered. 

READ MORE: Residents asked to help keep Vernon safe amid upswing in syringes being found

“The uptake was amazing," Sharkey says. "Over a two-year period, we managed to get the trend moving in the right direction."

The actual number of needles being found isn’t known, and Sharkey says the reported drop is mostly anecdotal.

The Vernon Community Safety Office is one of the places you can call if you find a needle, and coordinator Rachael Zubick agrees there have been far fewer calls for service compared to the past couple years. 

“In our community, we are not hearing as much alarm from the general public in terms of found needles. That’s not to say we don’t still find them, or that there aren’t a lot in the community,” she says.

It's possible part of the downturn in calls is related to complacency — people seeing so many needles, they just don't call them in anymore — however Zubick believes people aren't as fearful as they once were and feel more equipped to deal with discovered needles on their own rather than phoning it in. She adds there are also more disposal containers in public spaces than there used to be, including at the library, bus loop, airport and most public buildings, which gives people more opportunities to safely dispose of syringes. 

Nobody seems to know for sure how many needles are still being found in the community. Interior Health appears to have tracked the number of needles that were dispensed, exchanged and/or collected in Kelowna as recently as 2016, but a spokesperson says no tracking is currently being done.

The health authority did, however, provide the number of needles ordered for distribution across the Okanagan. Harm reduction coordinator Jessica Bridgeman says in a written statement 659,800 syringes were ordered in 2016 from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

“All individuals who receive harm reduction supplies are advised to safely dispose of needles and supplies in a sharps container, or a rigid plastic container and bring it to a harm reduction service or health centre,” Bridgeman says.

As the snow melts and creeks rise, people might find more needles around the city, Zubick says. If they do, she suggests safely picking it up, rather than leaving it on the ground where someone else, or possibly a child, could find it. Directions for disposal can be found here. If you do get pricked by a needle, health officials say the risk of disease transmission is extremely low. Wash the area with soap and water and seek medical attention immediately.

The former Sharps Action Team has morphed into a broader committee related to issues of substance use and harm reduction, Sharkey says, adding that if discarded needles become a big problem again, the group will be ready to respond. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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