Kamloops's needle buyback program aiming for a second launch | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kamloops's needle buyback program aiming for a second launch

Buckets used to collect used needles in the needle buyback program launched by Dennis Giesbricht and Caroline King in Kamloops, 2018. The associates are trying to resurrect the program.
Image Credit: Caroline King
July 13, 2021 - 6:30 AM

Two Kamloops residents are hoping to resurrect a controversial needle exchange program after it was shut down by the City of Kamloops.

Dennis Giesbrecht and Caroline King launched a needle buyback program three years ago in an attempt to clean up used needles from public spaces, offering a nickel for every needle. But they were forced to shut  the project down that same year when the City of Kamloops refused them a space to operate. Giesbrecht and King maintain the program was successful and still has the potential to be a successful project, if given the permission they require.

READ MORE: Kamloops needle buyback program helps protect addicts' privacy

“The city told us if we are on their property with buckets of collected needles and a bystander somehow gets pricked, the bystander will sue the city and the city could sue us,” King said. “If we went to a private business, that business would have to put us on their insurance and we can’t ask a private business to do that. I think the city should be more helpful. This program is needed even more now. I’ve been on the North Shore for over twenty years volunteering and I’ve never seen this level of use.”

That wasn't the only objection, however. Interior Health refused to support the project before it was shut down. 

"Needle buyback programs are not effective and in fact, they encourage another illicit market in the background," Dr. Trevor Corneil told Kamloops councillors in 2018. "People begin to bring in needles from other places so they can get their nickel or their dime."

He said the money spent on needle collection systems could be used better elsewhere.

"I think an important piece to look at is what is the outcome you're measuring when it comes to harm reduction, is your outcome actually the number of needles you collect back? That's an important piece but that's not the outcome," he said. "The outcome is to decrease transmission of disease and decrease the risk of overdose and access to treatment."

King says while the buyback program was in operation, the users were helpful and engaged, bringing in approximately 10,000 needles in one summer. They were paid five cents per needle, which came from community donations.

“It gave them purpose, in today’s society we are not asking them to do anything,” King said. “We are not giving them anything to rise up to. And there are no consequences. We saw kids showing up and they would clean up camps on their way in. They felt they were doing something positive which mentally is a huge step.”

The users generally have a weekly route they follow around the city. Giesbrecht says getting linked into their system is all that is required for a successful operation.

“We learned that if you provide a timeline, a regular time and location where you are going to be every week, you become known by the folks and they show up like clockwork,” he said. “We expected a certain level of accountability from these folks and we got it. It’s not rocket science. There was no shortage of money or people wanting to help us, it was all about location.”

King hopes others will come up with creative ideas to participate in improving public spaces. She believes it is possible to support vulnerable citizens as well as the community.

“We need to think outside the box,” King said. “We can rant and rave all we want but that isn’t productive. If enough of us come up with enough small ideas, sooner or later we are going to find one that works, a good idea that sticks. That’s how change happens.”

Giesbrecht is interested in doing a downtown alley cleanup. If the buyback operation could move forward, he wants a location on either side of the river. He plans to approach the city again.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Ainslie or call 250-819-6089 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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