An abundance of needles springing up around town has the public outraged with safety concerns.
The snow melt is revealing discarded needles in various locations around town – including Anderson Way, near the Civic Arena, Polson Park and walking trails around town.
“I already collected a whole bunch along Pleasant Valley Road last week,” said Maaike van Zwaaij, responding to a picture shared on the Vernon Morning Star Facebook page (originally from the Vernon Rant and Rave site).
Ashley Pritchard said her two-year-old son was nearly poked by a dirty needle buried by leaves in a tree hole in Polson Park Monday.
“A flash of orange caught my eye and I grabbed his arm to stop,” said Pritchard, thankful she saw it and was there to react in time.
And it’s not just Vernon.
“Same thing’s being found in Enderby,” reports resident David Lautsch. “Sad state of affairs.”
A Cache Creek resident reports the situation is worse there.
Unlike some other garbage and debris the snow melt is uncovering, the safety hazard needles present to children and pets is of particular concern.
“Last time I was in Vernon at a school playground with my daughter we found needles littered around the school yard. It is a terrifying site when you have little ones playing near this trash,” said Zachary Linderman. “I hope a solution is found for the small group of people doing this!”
One solution is somewhere for those using needles to go to safely dispose of them – a safe injection site.
“Time to shift our paradigms and see addiction for what it really is – a health issue, not a criminal issue,” said Jinny Rhodes.
Vernon Mayor Akbal Mund says this is not a matter of more needles around town.
“It may not be a case of increased needles but in fact that the snow has hidden them for a longer period of time,” said Mund.
In fact, Vernon’s Community Safety Office hasn’t seen an increase in calls about discarded needles. But there is increased prevalence this time of year due to snow melt.
“This happens every year, this time of year,” said Rachael Zubick, Community Safety Coordinator. “We definitely are going to find syringes around town. We’ll see another peak again once the waterways and streams come up.”
The good news is the number of syringes being found is nowhere near the 2008-09 levels and have been declining over the last two years.
“Our numbers are still down over the years in terms of needle finds,” said Zubick. “Recently we actually decommissioned the SHARPS team because we didn’t have a need for it.”
Instead, a harm reduction action team is in place.
”We’re looking at the whole big picture, especially with the opioid picture being what it is,” said Zubick of the volunteer-based organization.
But she understands the community concern.
“It’s frustrating for every body involved.
“There are many people out there using, there are many that attempt to be responsible however what we consider to be responsible is not the same as every body else.”
There is also no one within the City of Vernon dedicated to cleaning up needles.
“If it’s on public property you can give a call to bylaws and they will do their best or they will call us and we will do our best,” said Zubick, noting that neither office has enough staff to dedicate to clean up.
Those who are cleaning up needles can drop them off at the Community Policing Office, North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society office or the Vernon Health Unit. Many public washrooms also have proper needle disposal containers.
“The caution is making sure you have protective gloves on and you’re using a proper container with a lid,” said Zubick, who also reminds the public that it is actually quite rare to contract a disease from a needle – especially the longer it has sat dormant.
Those who are cleaning up needles are urged to use safe needle disposal.
– Do not try to replace the cap on the needle, snap, break or bend the needle.
– Pick up needle using work or latex gloves and tongs or tweezers, holding needle point away from you.
– Put the needle in a metal or hard plastic container that has a lid, such as a product or drink bottle.
– Replace cap on container firmly and label it.
– Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water.
– Drop off the sealed container at your local health unit or at a community drop box.