Following is a statement from Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman regarding the issue of needle debris and community safety:
Like many other cities in western Canada, Lethbridge is in the midst of a rapidly escalating public health crisis arising from the use of highly-addictive opioids and other drugs.
As a municipality, we initiated the Executive Leaders Coalition on Opioid Use in November 2016 in order to work pro-actively and as a community on the issue. We continue to work closely with our partners in the community to respond quickly and effectively to this evolving crisis.At the same time, we will continue to do as much as we can, within our jurisdiction as a municipality, to ensure the safety of all residents of our city.
Drug and needle debris in public places is a troubling and challenging issue for Lethbridge as well as cities across Canada and the globe. Parents in particular are understandably alarmed by the risk discarded needles pose to their children.
We share that concern, and coalition members have been working diligently on many fronts for more than a year to minimize the risk to the general public while preventing overdose deaths and preventing the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C into our population.
In the past year, the City of Lethbridge has:
- Funded the ARCHES Needle Pickup Hotline - http://www.lethbridgearches.com/needle-pick-up/
- Developed a Safe Needle Disposal Guide for city residents, which includes advice for parents of small children - www.lethbridge.ca/needle
- Supplied needle disposal boxes in more than a dozen areas where needle debris has been a chronic problem
- Recently allocated provincial funding for homelessness to expand the Downtown BRZ Clean Sweep program to supplement other efforts to deal with needle debris in the community
In addition, our Parks staff are trained in the safe handling and cleanup of needle debris. As required, needle cleanup is part of their regular work in parks throughout the late spring, summer and early fall months. ARCHES also has volunteer teams who do regular sweeps.
I would like to address some myths that are circulating on social media. Some in our community have mistakenly assumed that all discarded needles originate from the same source.
As a harm reduction agency, ARCHES is an incredibly valuable member of our community coalition that is working on the very front lines of this crisis. They are focused on keeping clients alive and preventing diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C from being spread via the reuse of dirty needles. They have a very controlled process with detailed tracking and an exceptional return rate. They do not hand out needles by the handful to local clients, as a few have mistakenly suggested.
Far more concerning to our community should be the incidence of drug dealers selling needles with syringes pre-loaded with illicit fentanyl and who-knows-what-else. These drug dealers have no controls, standards or needle-return policies. I know that the Lethbridge Police Service is working every day to arrest drug traffickers up and down the supply chain to slow the flow of illicit drugs into our community.
What can you do, as a resident, in the midst of this crisis?
- Be informed. Read the Safe Needle Disposal Guide at the link provided above.
- Talk to your children about what a discarded needle looks like and teach them never to touch it, if they find one.
- If you spot needle debris, report it promptly to the Needle Pickup Hotline at 403-332-0722 with details on the location so it can be removed promptly and recorded. The hotline is staffed 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day except statutory holidays.
- Learn about the work of the coalition at www.lethbridge.ca/opioidcoalition
- Know that the collaborative response of our community is an example for other cities to follow that are struggling with this drug crisis.
As the City of Lethbridge, our goals for our community are to:
- Reduce risk and prevent injury to the public who encounter discarded needles
- Raise public awareness about needle safety
- Reduce the number of discarded needles in public places
- Provide options for safe disposal of needles
- Educate and empower our community to take safe, appropriate action if they find discarded needles
As this crisis continues to evolve, the City of Lethbridge remains committed to the safety of our community, and with our partners, we will continue to seek effective ways to reduce the incidence of needle debris in public places.
Gerald Gauthier, Communications Consultant
City of Lethbridge