As part of its harm reduction strategy, Fraser Health offers an unlimited supply of needles to intravenous drug users. But the local health authority does not recover those needles once they’ve been used — a fact which has become more evident in Langley parks, streets, at the doorways of businesses and on trails and even school grounds throughout the Township and City.
A sharps disposal box and its spilled contents was found near the Cascades Casino parkade recently, and a needle stabbed into the grass at Douglas Park was pictured from August on the Langley City Crime Watch Facebook page.
“If anyone sees a used needle they can call Fraser Health or call the City, and we will come and pick it up,” said Langley City CAO Francis Cheung. “Our staff have been trained to safely handle the needles.”
The City is aware of the number of needles discarded around town.
It is a situation every Lower Mainland community is grappling with at an increasing rate.
“We face it, so we need to address those safety issues,” Cheung said. “We are currently in discussions with Fraser Health and we may put in some sharps boxes in parks, but they need to be vandal proof,” he said.
Cheung said many users who are living in the camp along the Nicomekl are using sharps boxes, which they have hung in trees at the camp.
“Many are self-regulating,” he said. But not everybody is, as is evidenced by the amount of (discarded) needles around town.”
“We share the public’s concern for inappropriately discarded needles. Substance use is a complex issue and a major concern from a public health perspective,” said Tasleem Juma, Fraser Health’s senior consultant for public affairs.
In neighbouring Surrey, the municipality is struggling with what to do after the needle recovery program, Rig Dig, lost its funding and shut down this month.
Lookout Emergency Aid Society, which runs the Rig Dig, didn’t receive a gaming grant this year from the provincial government to keep the program going.
Fraser Health contributes funding to Lookout, which provides varied social services to Surrey residents, including the Rig Dig program.
When Rig Dig was running, the team, mostly made up of former and current users, could collect as many as 250 used needles in two hours in one neighborhood.
Positive Point Needle Exchange in Surrey empties community needle drop boxes.
The organization reports that in Surrey last year it distributed 496,794 needles and collected 592,073 — meaning the group collected close to 100,000 more than they handed out, according to a recent Black Press article.
“Best practice in Canada is to provide individuals with the number of clean needles that they need without requiring clients to return used needles,” Juma told Black Press recently.
Fraser Health said it is currently looking to expand services into Langley.
“This would include evidence-based collection strategies such as public disposal boxes and engaging individuals who use substances to collect used needles in order to reduce the incidence of improperly discarded ones,” she said.
Anyone who comes across a used needle in a park or school ground is asked to call the Langley Public Health Office at 604-539-2900 or Langley City Hall at 604-514-2800.
Fraser Health offers step-by-step instructions about how to dispose of needles safely at fraserhealth.ca.