FILE — Community chaplain Chuck Harper (left) and John Howard Society volunteer Eric Denison clean up garbage near the train station plaza in downtown Vernon. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

FILE — Community chaplain Chuck Harper (left) and John Howard Society volunteer Eric Denison clean up garbage near the train station plaza in downtown Vernon. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

Vernon Sharps team not in favour of needle exchange

City team looking to set up dedicated phone line among other recommendations

Vernon’s Sharps Action Team has recommended to city council it is not supportive of a needle exchange or refund program.

And that doesn’t sit well with the lone councillor opposed to the team’s recommendation.

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The team, comprised of members from the Downtown Vernon Association, Interior Health Authority, North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society Street Clinic, Upper Room Mission, Turning Points Collaborative Society, Social Planning Council, Community Safety Office, RCMP and bylaw compliance, gave its reasons for not supporting the program in a seven-page report to council.

The report cited the risks of getting diseases from a needle stick injury, the anxiety from an accidental needle poke and that a needle exchange or refund program is not as successful of reducing rates of HIV or hepatitis because it limits the number of needles and means people are likely to share or re-use needles.

Sharps is working on a program that includes a dedicated phone line for reporting improperly disposed of needles and a team of trained volunteers that would arrive on-scene with retrieval kits and transport the paraphernalia to a place for safe disposal.

“If the Sharps team doesn’t want to do it, we should look for someone who wants to do it, even if it’s ourselves,” said Coun. Scott Anderson. “It’s working in other locations. We owe it to our citizens to try it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”

Coun. Brian Quiring said the Sharps’ proposal is an alternative to the buyback program.

“It’s a program where if I see four needles beside my dumpster, there’s a number I can call and somebody comes and retrieves them,” said Quiring. “They will get cleaned up. Right now, we don’t have anything that approaches that kind of program. This is certainly a step in the right direction.”

Anderson countered that the proposal is a baby step, but not effective.

“People are not going to know what that phone number is,” he said. “People being people, they’re not going to write it down, memorize it or put it on their speed dial. They’ll see a needle, they’ll go on Facebook and complain or they’ll step on it (needle).

“What they won’t do is phone anybody. I picture somebody by a phone is going to be very lonely waiting for these calls.”

The needle buyback program was one of the recommendations made to council by the city’s Activate Safety Task Force, of which Anderson and Quiring sat on, representing council, but it was voted down by council.

“When the recommendations came out, the businesses I talked to had a lot of hope, they were really hopeful something was going to change,” said Anderson. “The report, in general, has just been dispersed in various ways that it loses its impact. Everything has been watered down.”

Coun. Juliette Cunningham, a 28-year business owner in downtown Vernon, agreed with Quiring the proposal was a step in the right direction.

“I’m just sick of the negative, negative, negative, negative,” said Cunningham, adding she’s only got one council meeting left (not seeking re-election) so she was going to ‘let it loose.’ “We’ve done a lot here to be positive and proactive. It’s not all doom and gloom. Vernon is not going to hell in a handbasket. Vernon is a great place to live. Let’s not get carried away with rhetoric.”

Council voted 5-1 to receive the Sharps’ team report.

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See ‘Councillors needle IHA about programs’ on page A7