Treena Miller and her two young children were enjoying the sunshine while out for a walk on a popular Cowichan Valley beach last week.
They were near the Maple Bay boat launch when the kids noticed something odd along the shoreline and called their mom over to check it out.
“They knew not to touch, just to get an adult,” Miller said. “I was grateful for our safety talks.”
The kids had found a used needle.
“It was bobbing in the water as it was lapping the shore,” Miller said. “It was so scary as we could have stepped on it.”
Miller caught the attention of a North Cowichan public works employee as she and her kids were leaving the beach.
“He said that he sees needles in most garbage bags in certain locations, but not as much at that exact location,” she recounted.
She said residents living in the area tell a different story.
“They say they pick them up all the time,” she added. “I was worried as I put it in the beer can and crushed it so no one could poke themselves.”
North Cowichan’s community services general manager Ernie Mansueti said Cowichan, like many communities in Canada, is facing a national opioid crisis to the point its been deemed a public health emergency.
“The result is that the needles are now being found throughout our community,” he admitted. “The needle pick-up concern has had good collaboration with various agencies including Island Health to better deal with the issue. In cooperation with Island Health, local governments have installed various exterior needle drop boxes in high use areas and smaller rather successful sharp containers in public washrooms.”
Mansueti said North Cowichan staff would review the issue in Maple Bay “and should it warrant a needle drop box or sharps container, we will have it installed.”
Maple Bay Rowing Club shares a parking lot with the boat launch. The club’s head coach Cheryl Thibodeau said she hasn’t seen needles, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out there.
“I’ll keep an eye out,” she said.
Needle pickup is a shared responsibility, Mansueti said. Public participation helps.
It’s useful to report discarded needles by calling the Warmland Sharps Pick-Up Team at 250-732-3330.
Mansueti also noted various publications available to help people better understand the issue and to learn how to safely pick-up and dispose of needles to ensure we are maintaining a safer community.
“It’s so sad,” said Miller. “I am from Calgary and moved here three years this August. I have never seen drug addiction so out in the open.”
She admits she’s scared.
“It is terrifying. I held a man’s hand as he ODed in front of my office two months ago. He died and they brought him back.”
Miller said she used to take her kids to a beach along the Cowichan River until the locals told her not to.
“Then an article came out about all the syringes pulled out of the river…I felt like a terrible mom taking my kids there,” she said. “Where do you go now where you can go as a family and only pray you don’t get a stick?”