Pubdate: Thu, 28 Apr 2016
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Brian Hutchinson
Page: A5


You have found a used needle, in one of the last places you ever 
expected - or wanted - to see one. On the playground. Inside the 
schoolyard. On the beach. Now what?

Shiloh Sukkau was shocked at first. Then resigned. Now she's upset. 
Same with Joel Reid and Jessica Leung, and now they're speaking out.

Three people, unknown to each other, living and working in different 
parts of the city. Finding dirty needles in public places. Kids' spaces.

In this permissive city, where open drug use is sadly common, people 
have finally reached a boiling point. They're fed up with finding 
dangerous materials left behind by intravenous drug users, whose 
numbers in Vancouver exceed 12,000, according to local health authorities.

Dirty needles, called "sharps," along with cooking gear, water 
ampoules and rubber ties are the most common detritus.

The problem isn't confined to Vancouver's drug-infested Downtown 
Eastside. Used needles with trace amounts of heroin, cocaine, crystal 
methamphetamine, prescription opioids and blood are turning up across the city.

On one Vancouver street corner, residents were recently confronted 
with discarded sharps and, on a wall next to them, the image of a 
happy face, drawn in blood.

Here's the brutal irony, an unintended consequence. Millions of 
needles are handed out in Vancouver every year, more than in any 
other Canadian city. Free needle exchanges funded by taxpayers and 
private donors are considered an effective form of harm reduction; 
clean, disposable "rigs" can help prevent the spread of diseases such 
as HIV and hepatitis.

Most of the used needles from exchange programs are collected and 
disposed of properly. But every year, more than 100,000 needles are 
carelessly discarded outside, creating hazards for the rest of us. 
Last year, the number of needles recovered outside was a staggering 
250,732, according to Vancouver Coastal Health.

Shiloh Sukkau is a young mother with an eight-year-old child 
attending school in Vancouver's West End, adjacent to the downtown 
core. On Saturday, she found a used needle lying in a children's 
garden she and other parents built inside the school grounds.

Sukkau had previously found needles left in and around the 
schoolyard, which is adjacent to a city park. On each occasion she 
called a local social service agency, the Portland Hotel Society 
(PHS), for help.

The PHS has a needle exchange and recovery program and will send 
someone to collect used rigs from city parks and other places. The 
City of Vancouver, the Vancouver Park Board and other agencies also 
offer needle recovery programs and daily "sweeps." Clearly, though, 
these efforts aren't enough.

For Sukkau, finding a needle in the school's outdoor garden plot was 
a tipping point. "It's really upsetting, especially because I've been 
trying to encourage other parents, teachers and children to use the 
(garden) space," says Sukkau. "Now I'm not sure it's a good idea."

The morning after her discovery, Sukkau's partner found eight more 
needles in the same garden, which children had recently planted with 

Enough, they said. Sukkau went public this week, contacting media and 
local politicians, asking why residents are forced to deal themselves 
with Vancouver's drug use problem. With few exceptions, no one in a 
position of authority or elected office got back to her.

Joel Reid teaches music at a Montessori school not far from 
Vancouver's False Creek. He often takes his young students to a 
nearby park but first, he has to inspect the place for needles.

"It's become a hot spot," Reid says.

He has also encountered people shooting up outside his school; in 
those cases, he asks the drug users to move on. "They are very 
compliant, most of them," says Reid.

Fortunately, he's not aware of any needle-related injuries sustained 
by students. "The kids are pretty aware. I'll show them a needle if I 
find one, and warn them not to touch one if they find one themselves."

Jessica Leung and her family moved to an east side neighbourhood last 
year. She finds discarded needles as many as four times a week. 
"Places that families frequent are being overrun with sharps," she says.

The greater, underlying problem, she feels, is "prolific drug use."

Like Sukkau and Reid, she's found agencies such as the PHS helpful at 
collecting sharps. But the situation persists, and, she says, it's 
getting worse.

Some have suggested installing plastic needle disposal boxes on 
street corners, in parks and inside public washrooms. Leung and the 
others aren't convinced they would solve anything.

Would drug users who currently drop their needles on the ground 
suddenly change their behaviour and put their needles safely inside a 
box? Would a homeowner want a needle box placed outside their house? 
Fat chance of that.

There is no simple solution. In Vancouver, scattered, dirty needles 
are approaching "normal" status, sad facts of city life. It seems 
we're stuck with that.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom