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

Rachael Zubick picks up a needle using gloves, tongs and a gatorade container. (The safest method is to leave the container on the ground, not held in your hand, as you place the needle inside it.)

VERNON - With the number of needles being found in Vernon on the rise, community members are being encouraged not to fear picking up and safely disposing of syringes.

“We’ve built up such a fear around needle-stick injuries that it’s causing people to be more afraid than is absolutely necessary,” Rachael Zubick with the Vernon Community Policing Office says.

If done safely, she says there is very little risk associated with picking up a needle. And with a rise in the number of needles being found around the city, she says the benefit to picking up a needle is far greater than leaving it and putting someone else, possibly a child, in harm’s way.

Local agencies can’t say for sure why more needles are being found, but a number of factors could be at play.

“We do see, with economic downturns, people are coming home, some of them with addictions. Is that impacting it (number of needles)? I can’t say it is or is not, but not for a very long time have we seen an upswing like this and we’ve been tracking it for a number of years,” Zubick says.

Another factor could be the closure of the Green Valley motel, a place where drug activity was known to occur. When those doors closed, it’s possible more people began using in public places, resulting in more drug paraphernalia being found.

Local agencies got together and conducted a needle clean-up in March 2016. That day, participants filled five, one litre sharps containers with needles, says Annette Sharkey, with the Social Planning Council of the North Okanagan. Needles are being found in a variety of locations around Vernon, and increasingly in public spaces, Sharkey says.

“If you’re an adult in the community and come across a needle, we need the whole community to rally around this. The first thing is to stay calm; there is a way to dispose of needles safely,” Sharkey says.

Many people panic and don’t know what to do if they find a needle, but safely picking one up isn’t that complicated, Zubick says.

First, you need to find something to put it in. A sharps container is ideal and can be picked up at most local medical stores, but a hard plastic container or something like a gatorade bottle will also work. Use gloves, or something to create a barrier between the needle and your skin, and use tongs, tweezers or pliers to pick the needle up and deposit it in the container. Always point the needle tip down and away from you. Afterwards, wash your hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer. Never pick up a needle with your bare hands.

Needles should be dropped off at the Community Policing Office, the North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society or the downtown public health unit.

“We need to overcome the fear. If you handle it properly with the right protective gear, you are going to do a lot more good than harm by leaving it there,” Zubick says. “This is a community issue, needles aren’t going to go away. Rather than placing blame or having the focus be on things we can’t do, we need to focus on what we can do.”

More information on safe needle disposal can be found here. 

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