The answer is still unclear about how to address Penticton’s needle problem, however the city is considering a new bylaw to limit the number of discarded needles found in the city’s parks and alleyways, according to city officials.
According to city planning manager Blake Laven, the city has been meeting weekly with representatives from Interior Health to find a solution, but so far nothing has been finalized.
He said creating a new bylaw that would restrict where needles can be given out isn’t the city’s first choice, but it is closely following the City of Parksville on Vancouver Island, that is currently considering a similar bylaw.
“Ultimately, we don’t want to go down that road because we understand this bylaw could limit people’s access to harm reduction supplies. And it could lead to increases of HIV and Hepatitus in our community,” said Laven.
“We’re all well aware of that, but I think council wants to see something get done. So if we can’t come to another arrangement with Interior Health than that’s one option we will be bringing to council.”
According to stats provided by city staff on Nov. 5 at the regular council meeting, approximately 440 people in Penticton use intravenous drugs and 167,000 needles were ordered for Penticton in 2018 through the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
The report report did not state how many of those needles were distributed, however it did state that 90 per cent of them were properly disposed of.
Laven said if a new bylaw is approved it would not be allowed to restrict the number of needles being distributed in the community, but would put more onus on the organizations providing them to ensure it is done with community safety in mind.
For example, he said the bylaw could mandate that each organizations’ needles be tagged so that if they are improperly disposed, authorities can determine where they came from and better address clean-up efforts.
“There’s a lot of different ways you could go with a regulation bylaw. Like Parksville said that you can’t distribute needles on city land without approval of the location,” said Laven. “So right now we have an issue where people and agencies go right to Esplanade Park and the parking lot at that city park and distribute there, and that’s where we see a lot of issues happen and a lot of the clean-ups we’re having to do.”
In order for the city to successfully introduce a new bylaw, it would need to be forwarded to Interior Health for comments from the Medical Health Officer after it passes first reading. While the health authority cannot outright turn down the bylaw, under the Public Health Bylaws Regulation it would require approval from the Ministry of Mental Health & Addictions.
“BC needle distribution policies follow clinical best practices and World Health Organization recommendations, and these policies do not restrict or limit the distribution of needles,” states the ministry in a release
“Overall, the risk to the public is extremely low. There has never been a report of anyone who has acquired HIV, or any other pathogen, from a needle-stick injury from a discarded needle in a park or any other public place in B.C.”
The ministry also recently set aside $1 million in funding for municipalities to apply for up to $50,000 in grant money for collaborative initiatives that improve community wellness and harm reduction. Needle collection and recovery is one type of initiative that municipalities may be eligible for under this grant program.
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