More than 1,000 discarded needles were among the debris taken from the Cowichan River during a clean up of a section of the river in October. (File photo)

Island group disbanded after picking up 40,000 needles

Temporary contract in place while Cowichan looks for long-term solutions to discarded sharps problem

After collecting approximately 40,000 discarded needles in the Cowichan Valley since it was formed in 2017, the Warmland Sharps Pick-Up Team disbanded at the end of January after its contract ended.

The team was created in response to concerns in the community around discarded needles in pubic places.

It was funded by the Cowichan Tribes/First Nations Health Authority and managed by Warmland House and the Canadian Mental Health Association, Cowichan Valley branch.

RELATED STORY: DUNCAN NEEDLE PICK-UP TEAM FACING ABUSE

Island Health has a new contract with the Nanaimo and Area Resource Services for Families for a short-term contract for the collection of discarded needles in the area that began on Feb. 1 and expires on March 31.

The contract is seen as a temporary fix, and NARSF will be providing services of four hours a day, four days a week during the term of the contract.

Correspondence from Island Health said the time until the end of March “will enable targeted, focused discussions among local key stakeholders to develop a shared approach to this societal challenge”.

RELATED STORY: ISLAND HEALTH LAUNCHES NEEDLE-AWARENESS CAMPAIGN

Stacey Middlemiss is a councillor with the City of Duncan and a coordinator with the local Community Action Team.

Community Action Teams, which include key community stakeholders, were established by the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions in 2016, after the public health emergency due to the opioid crisis was declared, in areas of the province most hard hit by the crisis to try to help deal with related problems and find solutions.

RELATED STORY: OFFICIALS STEPPING UP TO COLLECT GROWING NUMBER OF DISCARDED NEEDLES

She said a meeting will soon be called with community partners in the region in an effort to find a sustainable solution to the discarded-needles issue, but it has yet to be scheduled.

James Tousignant, executive director of the Cowichan branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said that when the province called the health emergency due to the opioid crisis, it made funding available for projects like the opening of overdose prevention sites, but not for programs to pick up discarded needles.

He said discarded needles became a big issue in the local region, but not in some other parts of the province, so Island Health has agreed to pay for the temporary program to act as bridge funding until the community can find money for the program from other sources.

“The members of the Warmland Sharps Pick-Up Team have been very visible in the community and have made connections with people, so we’re seeing less of a problem with discarded needles than in the past, but it is still an ongoing issue,” Tousignant said.

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