Quesnel to install needle disposal boxes in city-maintained washrooms

Between September 2016 and September 2017, at least 35,527 needles were handed out in Quesnel

The City of Quesnel will provide needle disposal boxes in public washrooms as soon as possible.

The boxes will be located in the four city-maintained washrooms at Spirit Square, LeBourdais Park, West Fraser Timber Park and the washrooms near the Search and Rescue building that serve the River Front Trail.

The motion was put forward during a council meeting Nov. 21 by Coun. John Briscoe and was passed unanimously by other councillors.

Mayor Bob Simpson says this is the first phase in a public health and safety initiative.

The second phase will see councillors take the project to the Joint Planning Committee to propose to the Cariboo Regional District that jointly held recreation facilities also receive disposal boxes. These facilities include Alex Fraser Park, the soccer complex, the arenas and the Quesnel & District Arts and Recreation Centre.

He says beyond that, the city hopes to include Northern Health and other organizations that provide services to people with addictions in locating areas in the community where spent needles are often found, and discuss whether disposal boxes should also be put up in these areas.

“Some communities have had success with reducing the number of needles that are lying about by placing disposal boxes in these areas,” comments Simpson.

A representative from the needle exchange program run by Quesnel Tillicum Society, who also manages the harm reduction supplies at Seasons House, says between September 2016 and September 2017, 35,527 needles were handed out between the two facilities. This number doesn’t include harm reduction supplies handed out by public health.

He says 70 per cent of those were given out by Seasons House, and 30 per cent by the Tillicum Society.

The representative says the number has likely increased from last year, although they don’t have specific numbers.

“We’ve been working on trying to get users to bring back needles; we support them to take sharp containers, and we take back needles and take them to the hospital for disposal,” he comments.

“It would be great if we could do more, and have users bring back needles in exchange for clean needles. But as long as they are getting clean needles, that’s the most important thing.”

He notes that Seasons House does have a team that scans “hot spot” areas for needles and disposes of them properly. The most prominent area they find used needles is the area immediately surrounding Seasons House on Carson Ave.

Mayor Simpson says the city’s program is more comprehensive than just the disposal boxes and will include clean up as well.

Public work staff – who maintain and clean Quesnel’s public spaces – will receive updated training on how to handle needles, and will now be deliberately scanning for needles as part of their regular duties.

“This is a public health and safety initiative. The safety component is what most people pick up on, but this is also a way to help prevent the spread of communicable diseases,” says Simpson.

“Giving people the ability to safely dispose of needles is a way to prevent others from injecting with an infected needle that they find, and also prevent spread of disease to the non-user population.

“The failure to have safe disposal could end up costing taxpayers a lot more money if people have to be treated for hepatitis or HIV. And even for people who are inadvertently poked, the treatment is a very expensive 10-day course.”

Simpson says the city is preparing additional information for the general public about safe handling of needles, which will be posted on the City of Quesnel website in the next few weeks.

The disposal boxes will be installed as soon as they can be ordered and delivered, as the matter will not have to go back to council for costing. Simpson says the boxes are inexpensive and the cost can be absorbed into existing budgets.

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