Pubdate: Sun, 03 Sep 2017
Source: Edmonton Sun (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: Jonny Wakefield
Page: 7


Discarded needles in the spotlight as Edmonton tackles overdose
crisis, safe injection sites

Cardboard boxes filled with syringes fill every nook and cranny of the
Streetworks office at Boyle Street Community Services.

They're stacked on top of cabinets, in corners and underneath a table
in the centre of the brightly lit office. Unboxed sharps, wrapped in
plastic, are stored in bins along a counter where people who use drugs
can pick up clean supplies.

The boxes go "wherever we can stuff them," said Marliss Taylor,
program manager at Streetworks. Last year, the service distributed a
record two-and-a-quarter million syringes through its needle exchange
van and exchange sites throughout the city. The goal, Taylor said, is
to "flood the market" with clean needles, reducing the health impacts
of intravenous drug use.

With demand for clean sharps increasing as the province faces the
overdose crisis, making sure that flood of needles is properly
disposed of has been a challenge.

In 2015, the city of Edmonton overhauled how it deals with needles in
public places in response to "dramatically" increased needle drug use,
spokeswoman Adrienne Hill said. City officials at the time estimated
93 per cent of needles distributed by Streetworks were returned and
eventually incinerated.

"This still left a considerable amount of needles that were
unaccounted for," Hill said in an email.

Karen Turner, a former drug user and president of the group Alberta
Addicts Who Educate and Advocate Responsibly, said most drug users
don't want to leave used needles lying around. But for homeless people
or someone having a mental health crisis, sometimes there isn't a
better option, she said.

Leaving needles on the ground is "frowned upon" among drug users,
added Eric Dang, a nurse with Streetworks.

"A lot of people who use our services hate seeing needles on the
ground as much as we do," he said. "They'll grab a sharps container
from us and go pick it up themselves."

This year, the city began compiling statistics on the total number of
discarded needles collected by staff and partner organizations. So
far, 5,085 discarded needles have been collected. Another 7,933 were
picked up from disposal boxes.

Carrie Ellinger, community safety liaison with the city of Edmonton,
said the city can now "forecast" where they'll need to pick up needles
and disposal boxes.

"Rather than collecting needle boxes on a set route whether they
needed to be or not, the boxes are now collected based on an optimized
route," Ellinger said in an email. That means staff aren't making
stops at empty boxes or missing boxes that are overflowing.

Discarded needle complaints are one of the issues being studied by the
public health researchers behind Edmonton's proposed supervised drug
consumption sites.

Edmonton has asked the federal government for an exemption to operate
three downtown supervised injection sites and a fourth at the Royal
Alexandra Hospital.

Advocates say supervised injection sites save lives by allowing drug
users to use in a monitored setting, reducing the risk of overdose.
Two hundred forty-one Albertans died of fentanyl-related drug
overdoses in the first half of 2017.

Another upshot could be less public needle use and fewer sharps on the

Michael Lee, chair of the Chinese Benevolent Association, said it's
already common to see discarded needles in Chinatown, near where three
of the sites are proposed. He was skeptical of claims that supervised
injection would change that, adding the sites could make the area a
"magnet" for crime.

Used sharps are especially common in Vancouver, he added, where Insite
has offered supervised injection since 2003. He cited a Maclean's
article that said 15 million sterile needles were distributed in B.C.
last year.

"It's really questionable whether (supervised injection) is really
reducing the needle distribution problem, or the needle-use problem,"
he said.

Taylor agreed no one wants to see needles on the ground, but added
their actual danger can be overstated.

"There is some hysteria around the idea that every needle is going to
give you HIV or hepatitis, which is not true," she said. "There's
never been a recorded case of HIV from a needle that's been on the

She held up a photo of a dozen yellow buckets with biohazard symbols
on the side, each containing 2,500 used sharps bound for the

"This is what we're getting rid of every Thursday," she said. "So
we're getting rid of needles."
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