Kamloops volunteers say needle buyback program working

Kamloops volunteers say needle buyback program working

Make presentation to Vernon council; claim to have collected 7,000 needles at $.05 per sharp

Kamloops volunteers Caroline King and Dennis Giesbrecht say a needle buyback program implemented in their city is working.

The pair presented to Vernon council their findings after operating a five cents per needle returned program since June 20.

“We only do this for two hours, and we’ve been doing this since June 20, so for 26 hours on the street and we’re nearly at 7,000 sharps collected,” said King. “That’s confirmed used sharps.”

King, a healthcare worker, said the streets of Kamloops were “literally littered with needles,” and that pictures were going around social media of needles floating in lagoons. Riverside Park — Kamloops’ jewel in the heart of downtown along the banks of the Thompson River — was so bad, she said, you couldn’t walk specific areas for the hundreds of needles present.

She reached out to Giesbrecht — the pair ran unsuccessfully for a seat in a Kamloops council byelection in 2017 — to set up buckets outside Kamloops’ most prolific needles-infested areas, and that’s how the buyback program got its start.

Giesbrecht said the program is not run by a big organization with a big budget — the pair started the needles buyback with their own money ($500), and have received thousands of dollars in donations, along with donations of food and drink products to hand out. He measures success, he said, by reports he gets back from people in the neighbourhoods.

“The apartment blocks are not finding needles in their parking lots and on the street that they used to find,” said Giesbrecht. “They’re not finding them in parks like they used to find them. We have service agencies going out to clean up these needles telling us they’re not finding nearly as many as they used to. So that’s telling us that this project is working.”

Giesbrecht shared a story of the first two days he and King set up. A young woman came on the first day and asked if they’d be there the second day. She came back the next night with a container and more than 400 needles.

“She took a container, walked down to her camp down by the river, cleaned up her little camp and brought them (needles) back,” said Giesbrecht. “If a nickel is all it takes to get a camp cleaned up, I thought it was a huge win and a success, and proof this concept could work.”

King said if somebody brings back 50 needles, that’s only $2.50 which “is nowhere close to covering the cost of a dosage.”

“It buys them an iced coffee at a store they can now go into; the owner wouldn’t let them go in before,” said King, who said she and Giesbrecht met with Interior Health officials in Kamloops about the program.

Interior Health, which previously spoke out against implementing needle buyback programs, is now, according to King and Giesbrecht, “widely receptive” to the buyback program.

“They asked if there’s a chance of moving to other areas of the city without ceasing operations where we are,” said King. “They advised us they can’t provide funding toward that, but they can help us in other ways. They asked us to put forward a plan.”

RELATED: Interior Health against needle buyback programs

Asked if they had met with Interior Health in Vernon, Giesbrecht said two days before the meeting in Kamloops, he and King met with “some groups” in Vernon and that the pair were met with “completely the opposite reception.”

The Morning Star called Interior Health media relations and was told nobody from the authority met with the Kamloops pair.

The City of Vernon, through the Activate Safety Task Force recommendations, said in July it wants to investigate a private model for needle collection.

RELATED: Vernon task force recommendations stir debate

Coun. Dalvir Nahal, who has started discussions on such a buyback program locally, is encouraged by what she heard coming from Kamloops.

“It shows you that there is an issue and it’s not just in the Interior,” said Nahal. “It’s happening in Parksville, North Vancouver, all over the place. We have a crisis on our hands, whether it’s an addictions issue or mental health issue. This is part of that problem. The fact we’re having this conversation is a good start.”

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control, on Aug. 10, released a paper on the retrieval of used needles. The centre and provincial health officer recommend against used needle buyback programs, “Because there is no evidence that they are effective, and they may cause unintended harm and consequences.”

The paper cited increased risks of a needle prick injury, risks associated with breaking into or removing community disposal boxes and waste as reasons for opposing a buyback program.


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