More disposal boxes coming to curb Nanaimo's ongoing needle issue

By Spencer Sterritt
September 12, 2017 - 5:28pm

Two extra needle boxes will shortly arrive in Nanaimo, in addition to the seven already in public spaces and 10 in private facilities.File photo/NanaimoNewsNOW

Island Health says they want to reduce the stigma around needle disposal boxes, since many with legitimate health concerns use them. File Photo/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — More needle disposal boxes are coming to Nanaimo and the mid-island area.

Griffin Russell, a regional harm reduction coordinator, said two boxes will arrive in Nanaimo within the year and 20 more will be installed on the Island. Russell said it's part of a vision he has for providing accessible options for users and communities.

“If you don't make the options accessible, safe and easy for people then they just don't get used. If you make it prohibitive, people don't use it and we end up with other problems.”

While disposal boxes are sometimes seen as enabling drug users to continue their addiction, Russell said they're enabling the behaviour Island Health and communities do want to see, which is people properly discarding needles or other sharps.

“Improperly discarded needles tend to prompt quite a bit of fear and alarm in the community,” he said. “It only makes sense to install some type of system that enables them to dispose of them safely.”

Russell said injuries from needles on the ground are uncommon and if anyone is hurt, the psychological aftermath of being pricked by one is often a large concern than infection or a disease from the needle.

The rollout of new disposal boxes was inspired by Nanaimo's own installation of the boxes, which was a City initiative started in 2011 and now has seven boxes around the City and 10 in public places.

Neither Island Health or the City of Nanaimo, who collect from the boxes, had specific numbers of how many needles were returned.

Russell could say more needles are returned than were given out and he compared them to most recycled items.

“Someone doesn't finish their can of Coke and then walk themselves down to the recycling depot for 10 cents. They'll store those safely and find a time when it makes sense for them to make a return. The same is true for needles,” he said. “This is about trying to reduce to .5 per cent, probably less than that, that ends up in our community where people don't have a safe or accessible means to dispose of them.”

Not everything found in a needle disposal bin was used for illegal drugs, Russell stressed. Often patients with diabetes may need a shot while their out in the community and said the bins are as much for people using them for medical issues as it is for drug users.

Gord Cote, director of the NARSF program in Nanaimo, said he's encouraged by the increasing number of disposal boxes.

“The importance of it is people are aware of how to deal with it when they come across needles. If you treat it with caution and deal with is responsibly, I think you can address it. There isn't a one size fits all solution to deal with discarded sharps.”

Cote said while he can't predict the future, and improperly discarded needles will likely always be an issue, he hoped it will become a smaller and smaller issue with more bins and programs to go along with them.


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