Pubdate: Thu, 18 Jan 2018
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2018 Times Colonist
Author: Richard Watts
Page: A1


Dangerously discarded needles could be part of plan to discredit
injection drug users and public health efforts to help them, says
Island Health's chief medical health officer.

Dr. Richard Stanwick told reporters that some people lack sympathy for
drug users and oppose measures such as needle exchanges. They might
even want to discredit both by leaving syringes outside for the public
to find or get jabbed.

"There are still people who see [drug addiction] as a moral failing
and bad choice rather than a chronic, relapsing disease of the brain,"
Stanwick said. "What we are really concerned about is making sure this
isn't some sort of effort to discredit efforts around harm reduction."

Stanwick was speaking after an emergency meeting of officials from
Island Health, police, the City of Victoria and social service and
advocacy groups to discuss three recent incidents in which people were
pricked by discarded needles.

Victoria police said Wednesday they have concluded their investigation
into one of the incidents.

On Jan. 8, a child was jabbed at the McDonald's restaurant in the 900
block of Pandora Avenue. Police said the person who discarded the
needle was using it for medical reasons and did not place it with any
malicious intent.

The investigation continues into a Monday incident in which a needle
was found near a Johnson Street hair salon, inside a planter, stuck
into the soil with the sharp end poking up.

The third incident happened on Jan. 9 when a woman grabbed a paper bag
from her dog and was stabbed by a needle that was inside.

But Stanwick said the wider picture seems less alarming. Social
service agencies such as Our Place conduct regular street sweeps and
report no increase in discarded needles.

He also emphasized that risks from discarded needles are low in part
because of the success of harm-reduction programs and needle
distribution. Transmission of blood-borne infections from dirty
needles has diminished.

"I have to emphasize how low risk this really is for the general
public," Stanwick said.

"Even if the needles are out there, the odds are they will not contain
harmful pathogens."

He also said the majority of needles handed out at needle exchanges
and distribution centres are recovered for proper disposal.

But, he said, practices can always be improved. A central disposal
site or service, where anybody who finds a needle can make a call to
report it, is being considered, and safe sharps containers could be
handed out when needles are distributed.

Stephen Hammond, one of the founders of the Mad As Hell group, which
first mobilized in response to the tent city on the grounds of the
Victoria courthouse, said the public effort at helping drug addicts
seems to come at the expense of law-abiding citizens and increased
drug use everywhere.

"The problem we have is people are saying: 'I don't want to walk my
dog, I don't want to go downtown,' " said Hammond, who is also a
member of a citizens group campaigning to oust Victoria city council
in the October election.

"So it's not going to help to say: 'Hey folks, this might be one of
you trying to sabotage this thing [harm-reduction programs].' "
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MAP posted-by: Matt