While sweeping the city’s riverbanks for trash during Terrace’s annual Garbathon, members of the Steelhead Society of BC’s Northern Branch discovered discarded needles and drug paraphernalia scattered on a beach off Queensway Drive.
“We just picked them up with tongs and put them into the sharps containers we had, and then took them to the pharmacy,” says branch secretary Nathan Meakes.
“People recreate around that area, so if kids or dogs are around there, [discarded needles are] super irresponsible.”
The increase of needles found in Terrace over the last year has led to a conversation about whether the region’s health authority should be responsible for needle-pick up, and if discarded needles could be indicative of a larger drug-use problem in the community.
Out of the seven sharps containers that were given out on April 28, six of them came back with syringes, or needles, found in alleys, parks, and near the hospital. Last year only one or two needles were collected during the event, and Kerry Giesbrecht from the Greater Terrace Beautification Society says there’s been a noticeable increase.
“It’s much worse,” she says. “We’ve had sharps containers for many years, but generally they don’t get used.”
Needles can indicate larger drug issue
An increase in discarded needles does not directly translate to an increase in substance use, it is often an indicator of larger more systemic issues, according to Northern Health.
As of May 3, there have been 1,369 overdoses reported in northern B.C. since 2016. In Terrace, there were relatively small counts reported over 2018, with less than five overdoses reported each quarter, though unreported cases are not accounted for.
When people do not have safe space to use substances they will often use in public spaces because they have no other choice, wrote Reanne Sanford, NH’s regional nursing lead, to the Terrace Standard. This makes overdose prevention sites all the more important, she says.
“People that use substances that discard inappropriately often feel less connected to services and community,” Sanford wrote. “Using a substance in the community can actually increase their chance of survival of overdose.”
Last year, an online petition advocating for a treatment, detox and recovery centre in Terrace received close to 200 signatures.
Meakes says he believes there needs to be more treatment options in Terrace.
”We don’t have a proper rehabilitation or detox site here. This is an issue that’s going to be ongoing until we have treatment,” he says. “We need a host of resources to deal with it and [Terrace] has very little right now.”
Who’s responsible for needles?
Northern Health says an estimated 28,000 needles were ordered for Terrace in 2018, though this amount varies year to year. In 2016, more than 40,000 needles were ordered.
Medical health officer Dr. Rakel Kling says the needle program is meant to ensure people are at least using clean syringes. The distribution program is very low-barrier, not requiring participants to report whether they’re using the needles for a medical condition like diabetes, or for drug use.
Sharps containers and other harm reduction supplies are given out with the needles for safe disposal, but Northern Health does not require their return.
“We want to promote people pick up clean needles and not having the requirement of returning needles in exchange. By giving clean needles, it helps prevent sharing needles and infectious disease,” Kling says, pointing to the Health Unit as a place where needles can be returned.
There isn’t necessarily a limit on how many needles one person can ask for.
“I don’t think you can clean their stock out, but I’ve certainly seen in other communities one person will come and get a whole stack of needles that they then distribute to other people in their housing or other locations,” Kling says. “It’s very low-barrier — we want to distribute what’s needed.”
Northern Health says they believe needle pick up is a shared responsibility in the community, which is why they’ve partnered with the City of Terrace and the Clean Team initiative on ensuring safe disposal of needles, increasing community awareness about needle safety, and options for safe disposal.
“The analogy we often give is that if there’s Tim Hortons litter, we don’t go to Tim Hortons and say you need to clean up the litter. It’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure an area is clean,” King says, noting needles could be coming in from out of town suppliers as well.
“If the community believes it’s a problem, we want to work together to help them, but it’s not our sole responsibility.”
Terrace city councillor James Cordeiro says he disagrees and believes the organization providing the needles should also primarily be responsible for picking them up.
“If the city was ankle deep in garbage from McDonald’s, would we give them a pass or would there be an expectation that despite one’s customers littering, one also has a responsibility to police one’s garbage?” Cordeiro wrote.
“If Northern Health expects the public to pick up needles or bear the cost of doing so, then Northern Health should at minimum stop handing out the cheapest needles available and only dispense self-capping syringes.”
The City of Terrace says staff spend an average of three to four hours per day collecting sharps throughout the community. While they’re not able to attach a dollar figure solely based on sharps collection, the staff-time involved is “significant.”
Northern Health says they recover between 90 to 95 per cent of the needles given out. But this does not mean the outstanding five to 10 per cent are inappropriately discarded in the community, Collins says.
“Instead, they may not have been returned directly to Northern Health, [needles] may have been obtained by people from other communities as they travelled through, or safely disposed of by some other means,” she wrote.
What’s being done now?
The Safe Needle Task Force was implemented last year in response to a growing number of discarded drug paraphernalia found around the city. It involves Northern Health, the City of Terrace, Kermode Friendship Society, Terrace Downtown Improvement Area, among other stakeholders.
Drop boxes for needles and the Clean Team initiative, where former and current drug users would be employed to conduct needle sweeps, were two pursued options. After one year the locations for the drop boxes have yet to be picked out and the Clean Team initiative is still in the planning stages, with a goal to have the team active by the end of spring.
A Safe Needle Disposal Guide was put together last year to provide information to the public on how to dispose of needles safely.
“The City of Terrace is actively working with Northern Health and other social agencies within the community to implement the Clean Team initiative. This initiative should alleviate some of our staff time currently being dedicated to collecting sharps. It will also ensure sharp collection containers are placed strategically throughout our community,” wrote Petho in an email to the Terrace Standard.
An online survey was launched by the Safe Needle Task Force May 3 to inform the harm reduction resources and activities of the upcoming Clean Team project. The public has until May 14 to fill out their responses.
What to do if you find drug paraphernalia
If you find drug paraphernalia, such as a needle, on public or private property within the City of Terrace please contact the Leisure Services Department at 250-615-3000 and a staff member will be dispatched to safely dispose of the item.
If this occurs outside of regular business hours take the following steps if you are comfortable doing so:
• Do not try to put the cap back on the needle. Do not snap, remove, or bend needles either.
• Pick the needle up carefully with tongs or pliers. Ensure the needle tip is pointing down and away from you.
• Put the needle in a hard plastic container, tightly seal and label it.
• Take the plastic container to the Terrace Public Health Unit at 3412 Kalum Street or the Emergency Room at Mills Memorial Hospital.