Following the report from a woman who stepped on a discarded needle within the town back in June, Qualicum Beach council is hoping to address the issue in a number of ways.
Qualicum Beach council approved motions to lobby the provincial government to fully fund a Parksville Qualicum Beach or province-wide needle collection program; to explore partnering with the Nanaimo and Area Resource Service for Families and Island Health to increase the number of hours that the mobile health unit spends in Qualicum Beach; that staff co-ordinate with local partners to organize a forum on improperly discarded needles in the area; and for staff to draft a standard letter calling on the province to take action on the issue of improperly discarded needles.
Council unanimously voted in favour of all four motions.
The motions were the result of council hearing about a woman, Arleen Bird, who had stepped on a used needle during the Qualicum Beach Farmers Market on June 9. Bird then spent the next nine hours going to doctors, hospitals and pharmacies
Planning director Luke Sales, who presented the four motions, said it was “quite alarming” for council and staff to hear about Bird’s experience.
Town CAO Daniel Sailland said the reasoning behind lobbying the provincial government is when the town finds its staff and the general public is out picking up needles, “then clearly there is something not going right.”
He said the distribution of needles has shown to help those that use the needles for whatever reason.
“But if you’re going to hand them out, you should make sure that you have an equally responsive program for picking them up,” Sailland said.
“And that’s what’s lacking because, clearly, the needles aren’t going full circle and they’re not ending up back in our health authority’s hands for proper disposal.”
Sales said some communities are doing needle buy-back programs where people bring in used needles and receive a small amount of money per needle. He said the amount was about five cents per needle.
“They do report some success. There are positive results from those communities, but at the same time it is directly opposed by the health authorities who fear that this will create an unwanted incentive to pick up extra (used) needles and return them as a way of making money.”
Sales said there is also the concern that in the process of collecting and counting needles that there is a chance people could prick themselves on the needle.
In Qualicum Beach, Sales said, there is a group, Nanaimo and Area Resource Services for Families, that does needle exchanges, but he said the issue is the group is only in town one day per week. Sales said staff has had preliminary discussions to increase the group’s time in the town, but it would likely be at a cost to the town.
According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, harm-reduction supplies are provided by the Ministry of Health and the BCCDC oversees the distribution of harm-reduction supplies to sites approved by the regional health authority.
“The health authority collaborates with local municipalities and agencies to manage the disposal of used supplies,” according to the BCCDC.
Coun. Neil Horner said the four motions were “fairly long-term” and not immediate action plans.
At the July 19 regular council meeting, council passed Horner’s motion to investigate options for a paid return system for used needles in Qualicum Beach; that staff lobby the Vancouver Island Health Authority to only distribute retractable needles; and that staff open discussions with the cities of Campbell River, Penticton and Nanaimo to brainstorm ideas to address the growing issue of discarded needles in town.
According to the Aug. 20 agenda, staff had reached out to VIHA and was told that retractable needles were not favoured over single-use syringes.
Locally, Horner said, there is a local needle buy-back group, Oceanside Community Cleaners, that has stepped up and is paying for needles at 10 cents each. He said the group started a GoFundMe campaign, but has run out of money.
“They picked up about 14,000 needles in the Oceanside area. They’ve run out of money, but they’re working on the ground and they’re having great impact.”
Horner made a motion that the town allocate $1,000 toward the group’s effort to buy back more used needles. The motion passed unanimously.
Coun. Anne Skipsey said she would also like to see a unified voice at the upcoming Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities and Union of British Columbia Municipalities conferences. She said she didn’t see any resolutions in either of the conference packages relating to discarded needles.
“I don’t know whether I just missed it in previous years because it wasn’t an issue in our community, but it’s definitely an issue and I think we have lagged behind a little bit with not having to deal with this for years,” Skipsey said.