An example of an Island Health safe needle disposal box in Campbell River. (Alistair Taylor/Campbell River Mirror)

An example of an Island Health safe needle disposal box in Campbell River. (Alistair Taylor/Campbell River Mirror)

Parksville rejected sharps disposal containers from Island Health

Mayor says cost of maintaining boxes too much for city

Some two years after they were given free of charge to the City of Parksville, three unused sharps disposal containers were picked up by Island Health this summer, the NEWS has learned.

The city rejected the boxes and they were finally picked up by Island Health in July.

Mayor Ed Mayne said the city decided they didn’t think the boxes were effective, saying the cost to upkeep them was too high.

“The answer is not this nonsense about sharps containers,” said Mayne. “We didn’t put them out because we didn’t think they were effective in our community… Who’s going to take care of them? Who’s going to clean them? Who’s going to maintain them?” said Mayne.

Manager of communications Deb Tardiff confirmed this was the city’s rationale behind rejecting the sharps containers, and added maintaining the boxes would be too much of a strain on the city’s one outdoor custodian.

READ MORE: City risks causing ‘significant harm’ to some individuals: Dr. Paul Hasselback

The city currently hires externally for needle pickups in parks.

Port Alberni also received sharps disposal containers from Island Health, and installed them in strategic locations where needles were commonly found back in the fall of 2018.

Willa Thorpe, director of parks, recreation and heritage with the city of Port Alberni, has been working alongside the city’s Community Action Team, a provincially funded harm reduction initiative to help combat the effects of the opioid crisis in communities.

“We have noticed an improvement, absolutely… any needle that’s going into a sharps collection container means one less that’s on the ground,” said Thorpe.

Thorpe said the CAT has positioned the disposals in strategic locations.

That means near where discarded needle waste was found, and also in discreet locations, like tucked around a corner rather than on the front of a building.

READ MORE: Medical health officer urges Parksville council to seek legal advice on proposed needle bylaw

“I would say it is true that if someone is an individual using intravenous drugs, they may not choose to travel a great distance with a syringe. That’s when we talk about being strategic. Folks also want to be discreet when they’re disposing of their sharps as well,” said Thorpe.

“To blanket statement and say no one would ever use them, well then – why would anyone come up with bins in the first place? They must work to some degree, or folks wouldn’t fabricate them in the first place.”

According to a study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy in 2010, needle drop boxes installed in a Montreal neighbourhood reduced needle waste on the ground by up to 98%, with the journal reporting “significant reductions” for areas up to 200m from the boxes.

Parksville was recently allotted with a grant of up to $50,000 to create a Community Action Team for the city to help combat the costs of the overdose crisis. This was announced at the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in September.

Mayne said the grant isn’t significant enough to fund ongoing needle cleanup in the city. Tardiff said the city’s budget for cleanup of “homeless camps and refuse” was $11,000 in 2019, and has been increased to $15,000 for 2020.

Thorpe also spoke to the importance of being proactive to combat the opioid crisis that has had broad effects on communities across B.C. and beyond.

“We want to lead the charge as well to say this is a situation that our community’s facing, and so how can we be part of the solution?” said Thorpe.

“That’s why in all of our recreation facilities we now have sharps collections bins.”