PENTICTON - Penticton's fire chief is advocating for a safe drug consumption site in the city due the high number of needle pickups his firefighters are being called to.
Fire chief Larry Watkinson says he doesn't have statistics for the number of needle pickup calls because the service is performed under a broader category know as public assists.
“It’s been busier for sure with needle pickups this year,” Watkinson says, noting two instances in the past few weeks where firefighters found around 100 needles in a bag outside the Bingo Hall, and earlier this week around 20 needles were discovered in an abandoned suitcase.
“Any user needs to return the previously used needles," he says. "There needs to be accountability on their part if they are using pubic spaces."
Watkinson says that's why he's advocating for a safe injection site in Penticton and he's made his concerns known to several committees he sits on.
"They can go in, use the drug and come out, without leaving needles on the street,” he says.
As well, Watkinson says all too often firefighters are coming across a person having an overdose. Just a few days ago someone experiencing an overdose was discovered between against the back wall of firehall.
“The department was out on a call. No one knew he was there and someone had to call us in the office to come and deal with it,” he says.
He says the problem is part of a much bigger issue that will require higher levels of government to resolve.
“We can no longer keep handing out supplies that are not being properly returned, from users not taking responsibility for their own actions, because those needles are ending up in playgrounds and parks,” Watkinson says. “It’s not just a Penticton issue, it’s everywhere, anywhere there is an urban core."
Okanagan-Skaha School District superintendent Wendy Hyer says the number of needle pickups on school property has been on the rise all summer, and now that school is back in session, the issue is a much bigger threat.
“Now that summer is over, there is an increased concern regarding student and staff safety, so we have been working with the RCMP and Interior Health to address our concerns,” she says in an email.
Hyer says the school board would also be lobbying the City of Penticton to work with its community partners to address the issue, and the broader health and social issues behind it.
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